Fiona Hargraves

Lifestyle medicine for mental health

Depression affects more than 350 million people globally and the mean age of depression diagnosis is age 27 so prevention in young adulthood presents a critical period and opportunity for intervention.

There is a growing body of evidence on the effectiveness of Physical Activity (PA) as a mental health promotion strategy for reducing the risk of developing depression and protecting against future depressive episodes, particularly in youth. Importantly, exercise engagement and adherence are key to achieve and maintain the reduction and prevention of depressive symptoms, so we need strategies to increase PA that young men find appealing.

Fiona’s research aims to address the evidence gap in achieving PA behaviour change to decrease lifelong morbidity and early mortality in young people affected by depression by testing whether active virtual reality gaming (AVRG) can increase motivation and engagement in PA. The scalability of VR gaming means potential for increased access and reach, particularly during COVID-19 as we have become increasingly socially isolated and have reduced access to fitness facilities. In addition, the existing popularity of VR gaming in young males is a strength of potentially using this as a depression treatment for this hard-to-reach population with the lowest help-seeking rates but the highest incidence for mental illnesses.


Dr Mike Armour, Dr Emma George, Dr Freya MacMillan, Dr Sandra Garrido, Dr Joseph Firth

Funded by the NICM HRI and Blackmores Institute Scholarship Program.