Part of the underlying mechanisms at work here is the ability to safely interact with other residents anonymously, or being able to roleplay frightening situations safely. From the article: "Because the full-color, multifaceted nature of the experience offers so much more "emotional bandwidth" than traditional Web sites, e-mail lists and discussion groups, users say the experience can feel astonishingly real." And when the experience centers on more than just combat, this could be said of more virtual worlds than just SL -- I'm sure there are incidences of these sorts of benefits in World of Warcraft and Everquest, as well.
It's time for the World Health Organization to take a serious look at the health-improving benefits of virtual worlds, and what it means to the millions of citizens worldwide.
[Via Nashua Telegraph]