Metaverse and Mental Health: What’s the impact?

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The evolution of social media is upon us thanks to the company behind Facebook, thanks, Meta! The Metaverse allows people to modify their appearance in a simulated reality. So you can wear your favorite beauty filters or appear as a troll if you wish. What impact will the metaverse have on our mental health? 

In addition, you can even model your perfect NFT clothing in a virtual and augmented simulation that blends with the real world. So how you design your appearance in the Metaverse is how everyone else perceives you.

These features are exciting and fun; who wouldn’t want to live life in their best fantasy appearance? I, for one, wouldn’t mind being Thor — no explanation is needed.

However, as a human-centered software designer, I think now is the time to discuss how the always-on Metaverse can impact our mental health. 

Learning from social media and its impact on our mental health

We have already experienced the negative impact social media plays on our mental health. Like the color of text messages, something seemly minor can have depressing effects. With that said, let’s learn from our experiences with social media and do better with the Metaverse. 

Now, I am not a clinical psychologist in any manner. However, I do design software in a human-centered way. With that said, let’s discuss the implications of the Metaverse from a theoretical user’s perspective. 

User experiences that may impact mental health

“As a child, how do I distinguish between reality and simulation while connected to the Metaverse?”

Imagine you are a parent and taking your child on a shopping trip in this scenario. You’re both logged into the Metaverse via high-tech glasses that snuggly hug your face; you forget they are even there. As you enter the store, you are walking towards the coffee shop. Your child sees a family of Lord of the Rings-appearing trolls in line talking about what they would like to order. 

As a parent, it is clear to you that the troll-like appearance of the family is a simulation. However, it may be difficult for the child to understand what is a game and what is not. 

How can we help our children understand this blending of realities? Perhaps the Metaverse will have constraints on simulated appearances and their displayed environment? For example, if you are playing a game, you can look like a troll; and you appear as yourself if you are at Target. In addition, perhaps there is an age range in place for using the Metaverse.

 “I love my Metaverse appearance and never want to log off to avoid seeing how I truly look.”

In this scenario, the user spent days performing virtual-plastic surgery on their face and body to achieve the perfect look. And because they are in love with their simulated self, this user stays logged in from the moment they wake up to when they go to sleep. Seeing their true appearance causes them mental anguish.

If they could access the Metaverse via contact lenses, they would never log out. 

In addition, they have their bedroom designed precisely how they have dreamt it to be. The bedroom walls are painted with animated glitter and have shelving with their favorite NFT digital collectibles on display. In addition, there are live photos & videos of their favorite memories throughout the room framed in elegant gold. 

After reading the scenario, can you identify anything concerning this user’s engagement with the Metaverse? From my perspective, I am concerned people may experience:

  • Heightened body dysmorphia
  • Rejection of the physical reality
  • Increase in depressive feelings when logged out of Metaverse 
  • Elevated anxiety in the real world 

Learn from the past, prepare for the future

I am not sure we have experienced this impact on mental health from technology before. Perhaps, Meta is aware of the adverse effects the Metaverse can have on mental health and are working on protecting the users. However, we should also learn from our past and realize that we are our own best advocates. 

What are your thoughts? Can you think of any other scenarios? I’d love to have a larger conversation about the Metaverse and protecting our mental health. If you are interested, reach out! 

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