The NHS may prescribe mobile games to combat anxiety in children and teenagers

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The NHS has announced that teenagers and children diagnosed with anxiety will take part in a new video game treatment programme, reports The Times.

The programme consists of five tools based on cognitive behavioural therapy, which officials say can improve access to mental health support despite the long waits for services and shortage of clinicians.

Per the article, an estimated one in six of all six to sixteen year olds in England had a probable mental health condition in 2021, compared to one in nine in 2017.

Alongside games, videos, and quizzes available on computers and smartphones, the programme will offer text messaging with therapists.

Pharmaphorum states that the programme has only been provisionally recommended by the National Service for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). The group will consult further on the topic before making its final recommendation about the programme.

Know your audience

The five apps are targeted at different age groups between six and seventeen “with mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety or low mood” as a first-line treatment option, helping to give children and young people easier access to cognitive behavioural therapy than may otherwise be available.

In the group’s guidance, it states that “Guided self-help digital CBT technologies provide a different way to help children and young people manage their symptoms of anxiety or low mood and could allow earlier access to mental health treatment. Children and young people will be able to work through self-help materials on their own but will be guided by support from a mental health professional. Offering guided self-help digital CBT technologies could help engagement with treatment and result in better patient outcomes.”

Despite this, there are some who remain critical of the potential for games as a means of therapy. A poll by The Alan Turing Institute of students in 10 different universities found that the majority were concerned that digital therapy could exacerbate social isolation, as well as by the lack of empathy offered by computers.

NICE independent medical technologies committee lay member Marie Simons remains optimistic about the programme, stating that the support may be more accessible and attractive to young people and children who find social communication and interaction challenging.

“If digital support can be offered earlier than face to face treatment, this can give support and importantly validation to their feelings sooner,” she stated.

The NHS has previously urged game makers to ban lootboxes in an effort to curb gambling addiction.

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