Head-Mounted Virtual Reality and Mental Health: Critical Review of Current Research

Shaun W Jerdan, Mark Grindle, Hugo C van Woerden, Maged N Kamel Boulos

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

112 Citations (Scopus)
266 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: eHealth interventions are becoming increasingly used in public health, with virtual reality (VR) being one of the most exciting recent developments. VR consists of a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment viewed through a head-mounted display. This medium has provided new possibilities to adapt problematic behaviors that affect mental health. VR is no longer unaffordable for individuals, and with mobile phone technology being able to track movements and project images through mobile head-mounted devices, VR is now a mobile tool that can be used at work, home, or on the move.

OBJECTIVE: In line with recent advances in technology, in this review, we aimed to critically assess the current state of research surrounding mental health.

METHODS: We compiled a table of 82 studies that made use of head-mounted devices in their interventions.

RESULTS: Our review demonstrated that VR is effective in provoking realistic reactions to feared stimuli, particularly for anxiety; moreover, it proved that the immersive nature of VR is an ideal fit for the management of pain. However, the lack of studies surrounding depression and stress highlight the literature gaps that still exist.

CONCLUSIONS: Virtual environments that promote positive stimuli combined with health knowledge could prove to be a valuable tool for public health and mental health. The current state of research highlights the importance of the nature and content of VR interventions for improved mental health. While future research should look to incorporate more mobile forms of VR, a more rigorous reporting of VR and computer hardware and software may help us understand the relationship (if any) between increased specifications and the efficacy of treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14
Pages (from-to)e14
JournalJMIR Serious Games
Issue number3
Early online date20 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2018


  • virtual reality
  • well-being
  • behavior change


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