Children as young as five who suffer from anxiety are to be prescribed cognitive behavioural therapy apps on the NHS via mobile phones, tablets and computers.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), the health regulator, has conditionally recommended digital CBT for use in the health service to help children and young people with symptoms of mild to moderate anxiety.
Draft guidance released for consultation on Friday says the technologies can be used with support from a mental health professional, while further evidence is generated to check if the benefits they offer are realised in practice.
The five self-guided products offer games, videos and quizzes, based on CBT principles, to help children and young people learn techniques to better understand and manage their symptoms of anxiety and low mood with the support of a mental health practitioner, Nice said.
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. Patients may be offered other support such as face to face CBT alongside digital therapies, where appropriate, Nice said.
Digital CBT is delivered via mobile phones, tablets, or computers and can be accessed remotely and offers flexible access, greater privacy, increased convenience, and increased capacity and support for face to face CBT. Nice said it may be particularly appealing to children and young people who are typically regular users of digital technologies such as smartphones and tablets.
Nice found there is evidence to suggest that guided self-help digital CBT technologies may improve symptoms of anxiety but more evidence is needed to inform a full Nice assessment before considering these for routine use in the NHS.
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.
“By driving innovations like these into the hands of clinicians we can improve care for patients and help the service recover following the pandemic.”
The Health Foundation estimates that among those aged six to 16 in England, one in six had a probable mental health condition in 2021 up from one in nine in 2017.
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.”