The start of the school year is here again, but for some young people, it can mean serious worry about what may lay ahead.

Social anxiety can be crippling for some children and adolescents, affecting their friendships, schoolwork and employment, according to Dr Caroline Donovan, from the Griffith Health Institute at Griffith.

“Children and adolescents with social phobia tend to worry ahead of time about social events. After being at home for so long during the Christmas holidays and more or less avoiding any social interaction they aren’t comfortable with, they can find themselves worrying about starting school and the social interactions it will inevitably bring. They may worry about who will be in their class and whether they will be friends with anyone.”

The Brave-Online Program

Now Dr Donovan’s research means that help for children and adolescents may be just a mouse click away. Along with colleagues Professor Sue Spence, Dr Sonja March and Professor Justin Kenardy, her work has led to the Brave-Online program, which is a series of questions, quizzes and exercises designed to progressively help teens address their anxieties.

“Around eight to 10 per cent of children and adolescents are affected by anxiety and two thirds of them don’t receive any assistance in overcoming their difficulties,” Dr Donovan says.

“It can manifest in a variety of ways. Because they don’t ‘know’ exactly what the new school year will bring, they tend to anticipate the worst and therefore become very anxious as it approaches.

“But anything that draws them to be the centre of attention is their worst nightmare.”

The research team has established that their online program, the first of its kind, is as effective as traditional counselling in person and this opens up many more possibilities for the anxiety sufferer.

“Teens tend to love it because it is fun, uses a computer, it is anonymous and they are open to help-seeking behaviour so it empowers them as they seek treatment,” Dr Donovan says.

Three randomised controlled trials have been conducted, all of which have demonstrated that Brave-Online can reduce anxiety in around 80 percent of youth. Brave-Online, collaboration between Griffith and the University of Queensland, is now seeking about 200 teenage volunteers to further test the success of the program.

Volunteers simply have to register for the program and undertake its exercises. The program teaches strategies for managing anxiety-provoking situations and helps users recognise and therefore regulate their emotions effectively.

To volunteer for the Brave-Online program, please contact : 07 3735 3312 or go online