Leveraging the social network for treatment of social anxiety: Pilot study of a youth-specific digital intervention with a focus on engagement of young men.

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Internet Interv, 2020, 20, pp. 100323
Issue Date:
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OBJECTIVE: The primary objective was to determine the acceptability, feasibility and safety of a novel digital intervention (Entourage) for young people with prominent social anxiety symptoms, with a particular focus on the engagement of young men. The secondary aim was to explore whether the intervention was associated with clinically significant improvements to clinical and social variables known to co-occur with social anxiety. METHOD: A multidisciplinary team comprising of mental health clinicians, researchers, young adult fiction writers, a comic artist and young people with a lived experience of social anxiety developed the Entourage platform in collaboration. Entourage combines evidence-based therapeutic techniques for social anxiety with an engaging, social-media-based interface that allows users to build social connections, while also receiving expert clinical moderation and support from peer workers. Acceptability, feasibility and safety outcomes of Entourage were tested in a 12-week pilot study with 89 young people (48.3% male; age M = 19.8 years, SD = 3.3 years). Eligible participants were recruited via liaison with four headspace early-intervention centres in north-western Melbourne. RESULTS: 56.8% of the sample reported social anxiety symptoms in the severe or very severe range at baseline. Results demonstrated the Entourage intervention was feasible, safe, and potentially acceptable, with 98.6% of participants reporting they would recommend Entourage to another young person experiencing social anxiety. Usage results were also comparable across male and non-male participants. Results showed that young people reliably and significantly improved on clinical and social variables. In particular, young males showed a clinically significant improvement on social anxiety symptoms (d = 0.79, p < .001), depression (d = 0.71, p < .001), belongingness (d = 0.58, p = .001), increased feelings of social connectedness (d = 0.46, p = .004) and decreased loneliness (d = 0.46, p = .006). Non-male participants also experienced a significant increase in social connectedness (d = 0.76, p < .001), alongside reduced social anxiety (d = 0.78, p < .001) and experiential avoidance (d = 0.81, p < .001). CONCLUSIONS: Entourage is a highly engaging and potentially effective intervention that represents a novel combination of features designed both to reduce social anxiety symptoms and improve social connection among young people. Entourage demonstrated some acceptability, feasibility and safety, with encouraging benefits to clinical and social variables. Entourage also showed favorable results for the engagement and support of young men with social anxiety symptoms.
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