March 18, 2024

UCalgary students create VR mental health platform to enhance accessibility to treatment

Six students across campus come together to develop novel health-care solution
A man wears a VR headset
Rehman Tariq demonstrates VR mental health platform, BraVRy. Nada Hassanin, Advancement

Like most university students, the student developers of BraVRy, an innovative virtual reality (VR) mental health platform, understand the burdens that come with balancing academics, extracurriculars, social life, physical health and overall well-being.

Driven by their experiences and passion for mental wellness, when the opportunity arose late last year to participate in Alberta’s neurotechnology hackathon, natHACKS, the six members of the BraVRy team knew they wanted to address the stigma surrounding mental health treatment.

A group of people stand in front of red steps

Nada Hassanin, University of Calgary

“We hope to promote mental wellness in all the spaces that we work within,” says third-year Schulich School of Engineering student Zaid Ahmed. “We believe that innovative solutions such as BraVRy can supplement the work being done by experts in the mental health field.”

  • The BraVRy team. From top left: Rehman Tariq, Faculty of Graduate Studies; Chaten Jessel, Cumming School of Medicine; and Samir Sakr, Schulich School of Engineering and Haskayne School of Business. From bottom left: Dieter Banaag, Schulich School of Engineering; Zaid Ahmed, Schulich School of Engineering; and Abeer Ahmed, Cumming School of Medicine

A cutting-edge supplemental solution

BraVRy is “an innovative platform that mixes cutting-edge VR technology, comprehensive biotracking and evidence-based exposure therapy protocols to make a significant difference toward addressing anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and specific phobias,” says Cumming School of Medicine student Chaten Jessel, BSc’22.

As a medical student, Jessel has spent time in psychiatry clinics devoted to specifically treating PTSD and phobias. “I’ve seen the debilitating impact that these disorders can have on people’s lives,” he says.

“We recognize the staggering burden of anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions in Canada,” says Ahmed. “So, our team came together for the hackathon with the goal of merging technology with health care.

“Every team member is passionate about mental health; in fact, some of us hope to pursue careers in the field. So, we are very committed to making a difference in this mental health space and, hopefully, BraVRy is a valuable step in the right direction.”

The solution unveiled

During the hackathon, research the team conducted showed there were gaps in accessibility to mental health care. Driven by that finding and a passion to make a difference, the team developed their VR intervention with the hope of increasing accessibility to mental health care.

“What BraVRy offers is a unique, personalized and customizable platform that can be remotely accessed by individuals and their care providers,” says Jessel.

“This would reduce the need for hospital visits, as physicians can monitor patients remotely.”

Crucially, the VR platform will empower individuals to pursue treatment and address their fears from the comfort of their own homes, within a secure environment, all under the supervision of licensed physicians. This not only makes seeking help more accessible but also helps diminish the stigma associated with reaching out for mental health support.

Adds Ahmed: “by tracking biometrics such as heart rate, blood pressure and brain activity, BraVRy is able to gain insight into a person’s anxiety levels, which can be used to facilitate their individual treatment plan.”

Becoming a globally recognized mental health solution

“Our dream for BraVRy is to see it become a globally accessible and recognized tool in mental health care,” says Jessel.

The team envisions their tool as an effective and standard treatment that positively affects how anxiety is treated and understood worldwide.

To make their dream a reality, says Ahmed, “our immediate next steps include developing further simulations and refining the technology of the simulations we currently have; conducting extensive trials to determine the efficacy of this solution; (and) pursing funding avenues in order to make this project more commercially viable.”

 To Learn more about the development of this project, visit the BraVRy website. To get involved in a future user study, email

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