NHS to prescribe video games for children suffering from anxiety

NHS to prescribe video games for children and teenagers suffering from anxiety

  • Five digital tools based on cognitive behaviour therapies have been approved for use in children by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
  • The programmes are designed to help young people manage anxiety symptoms
  • Hopes it will increase access to mental health treatment amid growing demand 

Children as young as five who suffer from anxiety could be prescribed video game treatment by the NHS.

Five digital tools based on cognitive behaviour therapies have been approved for use in children and young people with mild to moderate anxiety by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Draft guidance released yesterday said the games, videos and quizzes can be used with support from a mental health professional, and it is hoped that they will improve access to mental health support amid a shortage of clinicians.

Experts say the growing need for mental health services among young people has been driven by the pandemic and the impact of lockdowns and school closures.

Nearly 400,000 children and young people were in contact with mental health services in July, according to the most recent NHS figures, an increase of around 50,000 from the same time last year.

The five self-guided digital tools – which can be accessed via smartphones, apps and computers – are designed to help children and young people learn techniques to better understand and manage their symptoms of anxiety.

One of the programmes – Lumi Nova: Tales Of Courage by BfB Labs – is as a ‘therapeutic’ intergalactic adventure game designed to help seven to 12 year-olds ‘self manage their fears and worries’.

Lumi Nova: Tales Of Courage by BfB Labs (pictured) is as a ‘therapeutic’ intergalactic adventure game designed to help seven to 12 year-olds ‘self manage their fears and worries’

Another – Monster’s Journey: Facing Fears by OSI – offers a game app along with interactive worksheets, videos and quizzes. The programme is parent-led and the children have weekly phone calls with a therapist to assess their progress.

Nice said the digital CBT offers flexible access, greater privacy, increased convenience and increased capacity and it will hopefully appeal to young people who are already regular users of digital technologies.

Mark Chapman, the interim director of medical technology at Nice, said: ‘There is an increased need for child and young people’s mental health services that has become even greater due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Technologies like these could help children and young people get wider access to support.

‘We understand that for some children and young people technologies will not replace face-to-face interventions. What is promising about all the technologies we have conditionally recommended today is the way they bring together digital interventions with clinical support.

Monster’s Journey: Facing Fears by OSI (pictured) offers a game app along with interactive worksheets, videos and quizzes.

‘By driving innovations like these into the hands of clinicians we can improve care for patients and help the service recover following the pandemic.’

Marie Simons, lay member of Nice’s independent medical technologies committee, said: ‘I am aware of how children and young people can be affected by mental health difficulties, including my own children and those in my work in schools.

‘Some children and young people find it challenging to socially communicate and interact, which can affect their mood and cause anxiety. Having more digital support may well be more attractive and accessible. Also, if digital support can be offered earlier than face to face treatment, this can give support and importantly validation to their feelings sooner.’

If the recommendations are confirmed after consultation, the technologies could be offered to thousands of children and young people identified as having mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety or low mood by a mental health practitioner. 

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