The ClearFear Game: Using fun to tackle social anxiety

Connecting with other people is one of the ‘five ways to well-being’. Many people with mental health problems have small social networks and experience difficulties in making positive social connections. This is the main reason why we are exploring in the Connecting People study how health and social care workers can most effectively help people with mental health problems to connect with others.

One of our findings so far is that many people encounter difficulties in making the first step to connect with others because of a fear of social situations, or social anxiety. Of course, many people like me are shy or introverted. I am not ashamed to admit that I prefer solitary pursuits like blogging to parties, but at least I have a choice. If I would like to engage with other people in social situations, I can. I don’t fear being scrutinized by other people. I don’t worry for days about finding the right words to say to people. I don’t actively avoid social situations or suffer panic attacks when I’m in them. But many people do. Many people unreasonably expect others to be evaluating them negatively. Many avoid social situations or find them intolerably stressful. Many people suffer from social anxiety in various degrees of severity.

An American study found that 5% of the general population experience social anxiety disorder (at the severe end of the social anxiety spectrum) at some point in their lives. Although cognitive behavioural therapy can help, over 80% don’t receive any help. For many, it simply goes undetected. For others, the stigma of asking for help prevents them from doing so. However, we believe that it needs to be openly tackled to enable people to make social connections which can help them to get on with their lives. And we aim to do this using fun.

The Connecting People study team are teaming up with Kingston Recovery Initiative Social Enterprise (RISE) and Playmakers Industries to create the ClearFear Game. Last week, the RSA Catalyst fund – which provides small grants to RSA Fellows to develop innovative solutions to solve social problems – announced an award of £2,000 to help us to design and pilot the game.

The ClearFear Game will be a non-virtual game which will immerse people in social interactions which they would be otherwise fearful to engage in. Using the principle of ‘flow’ from positive psychology and gaming theory, the game will use fun as the active mechanism in relieving fearful situations.

The ClearFear Game will be developed by the Connecting People study team, members of Kingston RISE, Playmakers Industries, RSA Fellows and other experts during a ‘game camp’ on 6th-7th March in London. I’m not really sure what this involves, but judging by the YouTube videos, it looks like a lot of fun! We are actively involving people who experience, or have experienced, social anxiety during these two days to ensure that the game will be playable and fit for purpose.

Once it is designed, we will invite colleagues in Kingston RISE to pilot the ClearFear Game with people experiencing social anxiety to see if it helps at all. We will evaluate their progress before recommending it is used more widely. If the findings of the pilot are promising, we will aim to conduct further experimental evaluations of the outcomes of playing the game.

The development of the ClearFear Game and the results of the evaluation will be published online. The game itself will be made available using a Creative Commons licence. I’ll keep you updated on our progress on this blog and on the Connecting People study website. In the meantime, have fun!

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