The Veterans Administration estimates 17 U.S. veterans die by suicide each day on average. Behind many of those deaths is PTSD.
Now, there's growing optimism about how technology is improving treatment options.
Science shows virtual reality (VR) is an effective approach for treating combat-related PTSD and military sexual trauma-related PTSD.
The approach uses exposure therapy, a "tried and true" approach, in a more modern and interactive way.
“We help them to go back and confront and reprocess difficult emotional memories, but in a safe environment and clinicians office with support. By gradually doing that repeatedly over time, we do see a statistically significant and clinically meaningful reduction in PTSD symptoms,” said Dr. Skip Rizzo, Director of the Medical Virtual Reality Group at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.
Rizzo has done extensive research on how VR can treat combat-related PTSD. He's found VR treatments often outperform traditional clinical approaches. He believes the technology is emotionally activating and gets people to confront things they may not otherwise.
“The simple answer is we do it because the science, you know, shows it works and it works better than, you know, patting a person on the shoulder and saying, ‘don't worry about that trauma,’” said Rizzo.
His research also found combat-related PTSD patients actually prefer VR treatments to traditional ones. He says VR makes treatments more accessible since patients can do them from home.
“We're not talking about self-help here. We're still talking about remotely delivered therapy provided by a licensed, certified, well-trained clinical staff or clinicians who made a good diagnosis,” said Rizzo.
VR has also been proven to work in teaching combat troops coping methods before they're deployed.
Rizzo hopes it can one day be used to treat civilian PTSD patients and those who experience trauma at work, like medical workers and police officers.