Distress calls poured over the newsroom scanner near Sarah Hill’s desk, day in and day out for 20 years. Each one seemingly growing darker than the last, she recalled.
“I was a television journalist. … You have to cover a lot of trauma and a lot of really bad stuff,” said Hill, founder of Healium by StoryUP — a drugless, virtual reality solution for stress and anxiety that’s recently gained major traction. “I covered the aftermath of a tsunami, rapes and murders, interviewing people on death row, mothers who’ve lost children. Just some horrific stuff. … You have to immerse yourself in all of that negativity day after day and I lost it.”
The startup recently won best in XR at SXSW and $4,000 in a CES pitch contest, Hill noted.
Additionally, Healium was among only a handful of Kansas City area companies selected to pitch to investors in March at the 20th annual InvestMidwest Venture Capital Forum.
Click here to read Startland’s recap of InvestMidwest.
With a $300 billion people and profit killer looming — classified as the 21st century epidemic — an outside-the-box solution is necessary in tackling the dangers posed by common mental health experiences, Hill said, referencing research by the World Health Organization.
“I had to get out of the TV business because that media diet that I was choosing to consume was making me sick. Healium — for me, as well as it is for the 41 million other people who struggle with anxiety — is [a positive step forward.]”
A vacation, escape from worry
Not everyone in a career plagued by compassion fatigue can stop what they’re doing and mediate among the chaos of their day to day work, Hill said from experience.
With Healium, finding the time is easier, she added.
By slipping on wearables — each portable kit includes VR goggles, a brain-sensing headband, and VR/AR software — users can “heal” virtual words with the power of their body’s electricity, Hill explained.
Click here to order your own Healium kit.
“In short, [Healium was made for] anything that sucks that you have to endure, like a blood draw, a long-haul flight, chemotherapy, or a bad day at the office,” she said.
Airlines have been quick to board Healium, Hill explained.
StoryUP has partnered with 28 airlines — including British and Alaska Airways — to bring the Healium experience to passengers on long flights and reduce the situational stress often induced by air travel, she added.
“The ability to close your eyes and escape. … A virtual vacation for your mind before you get to that actual vacation destination. … I think they were attracted to the science of it and that this just isn’t, you know, a beautiful place,” she said. “There’s actually some data behind it to show that it’s making people feel better.”
Overcoming trauma with VR
Beyond compassion fatigued workers and situational stressors, Hill is confident Healium can also have an impact on veterans, she said.
“[I left TV news] for a great company called Veterans United Network. … We started giving virtual tours to a group of aging veterans who weren’t able to physically travel to see their memorials in Washington D.C.,” she said.
Watching the impact the company had on the lives of national heroes, Hill worked on the development of a non-profit program called Honor Everywhere, which enables terminally ill veterans to visit World War II, Vietnam, and Korean War memorials through VR technology similar to Healium, she explained.
“We noticed that VR appeared to be affecting their physiology. They would take deep breaths, their body would soften. And it appeared to us as if it was having a therapeutic impact,” Hill said.
Observations made by Hill and her colleagues were correct, she explained further.
Healium use showed such results as steady heart rate and anxiety reduction in as little as four minutes for numerous groups of people impacted by situational stressors and mental health experiences, Hill said.
“We’ve got to find some more tools for these people — specifically in the law enforcement community. We had another suicide not too long ago. These veterans are, they’re killing themselves at a rate of 20 a day,” she said. “We’re just trying to shout it from the mountaintops that there are immediate, drugless solutions out there that can provide some virtual peace.”
As the company gains traction, Hill remains committed to her roots as a journalist. The founder hopes to outfit TV newsrooms with Healium kits — a move to end cycles of compassion fatigue and anxiety, similar to those she experienced before she received her final wrap cue.