Augmented reality is a promising way to address growing mental health problems among teenagers. It might just be what teenagers need to handle feelings of anxiety, especially during these trying times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. A generation of teenagers is grappling with virtual learning and social distancing while dealing with the stress brought about by the global health crisis. Needless to say, these major life changes are putting some kids at risk of developing anxiety and other mental health issues.
Can Augmented Reality Treat Anxiety?
Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common anxiety disorder among teens. It can affect kids as young as six years old. However, symptoms usually start to manifest around age 11. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 31.9% of American teenagers from ages 13 to 18 experience anxiety.
Children with asthma are more likely to develop comorbid anxiety than your average teenager, making them more vulnerable to mental health issues.
At the University of South Australia, researchers are exploring the ability of augmented reality to deliver cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is a short-term psycho-social intervention for treating a wide array of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Through task-based processes, CBT empowers kids to identify and cope with the symptoms of anxiety.
The research team is comparing two groups of teenagers. One group is equipped with a paper-based CBT, which has AR-enabled content, and a self-help app. The other group, on the other hand, only has the self-help app without the AR content.
According to the research team, their pilot study generated positive results. For instance, it showed that AR can successfully teach kids how to use their asthma inhalers correctly.
The Advantages of Augmented Reality Mental Health Solutions
Compared to other psychological therapies, CBT is eight times more effective. Despite the recognized advantages, not all teenagers will seek treatment for anxiety disorders. Some might fear mental health stigma, which leads to avoidance. Others, however, might want to seek treatment but lack the means to do so.
Unlike virtual reality, AR requires less expensive tech. Thus, it is more accessible. You don’t need a special headset to use AR. Even with a smartphone, you can access AR-enabled apps and programs to your heart’s content.
According to lead researcher Kelsey Sharrad, interactive technologies such as augmented reality appeals more to the younger crowd. Teenagers rely heavily on the internet for information. Instead of seeking professional help, some are more comfortable practicing self-help. AR-enabled CBT therapy is therefore a good mental health solution for this generation of teenagers.
By making critical resources accessible, especially to those who can’t understand written instructions, it can improve the quality of life of many teenagers.
Moreover, the flexibility and level of personalization that apps offer empower the youth to take their mental well-being into their own hands.
Sharrad said that CBT is inherently a person-centered approach to therapy. By combining it with AR, they are simply magnifying its personalization and appeal.