VR platform to help children overcome social anxiety to be created

 Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is thought to affect around 10 per cent of children and young people

Sheffield Hallam University has been awarded £35,000 to develop a platform of home-based immersive virtual reality (VR) scenarios to help alleviate SAD symptoms amongst children.

A first-of-its-kind study will be conducted to help develop VR scenarios that hopefully can aid children in overcoming social anxiety disorders.

The bespoke virtual interactions will be tailored for paediatric patients with social anxiety in collaboration with staff and patients at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.

Scenarios will include everyday environments such as in the home, neighbourhoods and shops. These environments will be designed with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in mind to provide challenging features to help encourage coping mechanisms.

Social anxiety disorder is a long-lasting and overwhelming fear of social situations and affects around 10 per cent of children and young people.

Children with SAD can suffer from distress, fear, avoidance of social activities, poor school attendance and problems with concentration, sleep, pand diet. They can also have uncontrollable outbursts, negative thoughts and physical symptoms that lead to depression.

Under traditional SAD treatment, a patient receives 12 to 15 one-hour weekly sessions, which include gradual exposure and prevention. The use of VR at home will allow the interactive aspects of therapy to be accessible daily rather than weekly and reduce the number of face-to-face sessions to four.

This would hopefully allow the NHS to increase capacity for the number of children treated for SAD.

Ivan Phelan, principal research fellow at Sheffield Hallam University and director of Impact VR said: “Therapists have seen the value of virtual reality for treating social anxiety disorder but have found that they are only for adults.

“No system is currently available that utilises immersive VR to deliver CBT to paediatric patients suffering from SAD at home. We are eager to address this unmet need and have started working with children and psychiatrists on developing an innovative system for children suffering from social anxiety disorders.”

Read more: Tech board targets West Midlands employability

Leave a Reply