By Dr. Greg Reger
Shortly after returning from deployment to Afghanistan, SGT Jackson finds himself at a local mall, struggling with his emotions. Images from a suicide bombing he witnessed fill his mind as he walks. Stopping at a restaurant, he’s on edge. Unable to relax, his eyes are constantly sweeping the area for a threat that will never materialize. Exhausted, he enters a mattress store. As he tries out a bed for his room at home, he falls asleep. There in the middle of the showroom, he re-lives the bombing in a vivid nightmare, waking in cold a sweat.
Thousands of Service Members find themselves in similar situations following deployment. However in this case SGT Jackson is an “avatar”, a digital representation of a human being in a computer-based simulation. His trip to the mall took place within the Virtual PTSD Experience, an online interactive educational program set in a 3D virtual world that explores the causes and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and helps visitors understand how they can work toward relief and recovery.
Using the 3D virtual world of Second Life as the gateway, visitors to the Virtual PTSD Experience can take their avatars through simulated combat events and learn about how traumatic experiences can result in PTSD. After a simulated flight home from deployment, visitors enter a shopping mall where avatars go through simulations of common triggers and reactions experienced following a traumatic event. Exploring the environments, users “learn by doing” as they try to maximize their health score by finding and completing all of the virtual scenarios. Users can also take a self-assessment and learn how to access face-to-face care or access anonymous self-care solutions on the web.
While the Virtual PTSD Experience is not treatment, it is an engaging, informative, and innovative resource where service members, veterans, and their families can learn about the aftereffects of combat trauma, and how to get help if they, or someone they know, are feeling troubled by them.
The Virtual PTSD Experience was developed by the Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) with the goal of delivering comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date information on PTSD through a user-oriented and highly involving platform. Learn more about the Virtual PTSD Experience and begin your own journey by visiting the website http://www.t2health.org/vwproj/.
Dr. Greg Reger is Lead Psychologist for the Innovative Technology Applications division at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology.