Using game dynamics to treat anxiety in young people

BfB Labs, Shift, Mindtech NIHR and the University of Reading are delivering an Innovate UK funded feasibility study exploring the potential for immersive gaming to help treat anxiety in children and young people.

The problem

850, 000 young people in the UK have a diagnosable mental health problem, with anxiety being one of the most common. According to an ONS study, 3.3% of young people suffer from anxiety disorders; which can often act as the ‘gateway’ to or be comorbid with other mental health illnesses and can have a huge impact on young people’s lives.

CAMHS (children and adolescent mental health services) are in crisis mode, struggling with the burden of supporting young people in need. Just 1 in 4 (25%) children across the country who need treatment for mental ill health receive it. Only the most severely affected young people are currently able to access treatment, with devastatingly long waiting lists. Just 16% of CAMHS funding is allocated to early intervention, despite evidence that it is the most effective way of treating anxiety.

The solution

Improving earlier access to evidenced CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) treatment is vital for young people with anxiety. Existing digital CBT products (CCBT) have tried to fulfill this, but are not engaging, and are therefore unacceptable to young people who are already worried about treatment and have to work hard to maintain motivation and compliance.

BfB Labs and Shift are experts at creating games that help young people with their mental health. We are currently researching, conceptualising and prototyping a game to treat anxiety in children and young people, which enables earlier access to treatment and, most importantly, is a fun and engaging game that young people actually want to play – so they use it and are able to benefit from the CBT treatment it’s based on.

We envisage this being used by low to medium risk young people aged 8-12.

What we’ve done

  • A literature review and expert consultation into the key aspects of childhood anxiety, CBT and gamification.
  • Interviews with children with anxiety and their families, therapists, NHS commissioners, schools, GPs and other stakeholders who help to support children and young people with anxiety
  • Visited CAMHS services to understand the reality of treating young people with anxiety
  • Synthesised insights and key themes to discover potential opportunities to design within.
  • Mapped commissioning and customer landscapes and created audience maps and user and customer personas
  • Created design principles and product briefs

Keep an eye out for more blogs coming soon about our key insights and design opportunities.

What happens next

  • Building partnerships with a CAMHS unit to work collaboratively
  • Running co-creation sessions and game jams to come up with lots of ideas and concepts for the game
  • Concept testing and filtering with young people with anxiety
  • Prototyping and testing the game
  • Completing the feasibility study, and seeking further funding to develop the tested prototype into a full product

How to get involved

Read our evidence review about the key aspects of childhood anxiety, CBT and gamification

Get in touch if you’re interested in participating in the project and helping to come up with ideas – we’re especially interested in talking to CBT Practitioners and games designers.

Let us know if you’re a CAMHS service who would like to partner with us

Join our co-creation session! Coming up on 17th April 2018, in London. It will be a whole day of creating ideas for the game, facilitated by our awesome Service Designer. There’s still a couple of slots left, and we’re interested in having a dynamic mix of professionals, therapists, game designers, parents, schools, GPs and digital health folk in the room.

For all enquiries, email


Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision

Children’s Commissioner for England Mental Health Briefing

Mental Health of Children In England