Edge of the Present: A Virtual Reality Tool to Cultivate Future Thinking and Positive Ideation in Place of Suicidal Thoughts

Lead Investigator: Professor Katherine Boydell

Investigative Team: Professor Jill Bennett, Dr. Peggy Brown, Benjamin McKinnon, Dr. Stephen Parker, Nicole Dickson, and Gabrielle Vilic

Research Manager: Stephanie Habak

Partner organisation: Metro South Health, STRIDE

Katherine Boydell pic

Diminished capacity for positive ‘future thinking’ and hopefulness increases suicide risk. Neuropsychologists report that suicidality is characterised by excessive negative thinking and poor positive future thinking – and that thinking in imagery (as opposed to words) has a powerful impact on emotion. This indicates the need for interventions that cultivate positive future thinking and mental imagery. Virtual Reality (VR) is a technology that offers users an immersive visual/sensory experience and provides a powerful means to address this challenge. VR has proven effectiveness for PTSD and schizophrenia, but is yet to be used in suicide prevention.

This study determined the potential of EOTP, an Australian, world-first VR application for suicide prevention, that was developed in workshops with individuals with lived experience expertise. EOTP works by immersing the participant in visual-experiential scenarios designed to
induce strong positive affect/sensation in response to user actions. Co-developed with consumers with a history of suicide ideation, EOTP was designed to promote the experience of positive future thinking. Using mixed methods, this study explored the impact of EOTP on positive future thinking in participants with lived experience of suicidality.