Can online social therapy help young men overcome social anxiety and build strong social connections?

Many young men struggle to make and maintain strong social connections, which can contribute to social isolation, loneliness and depression. This risk is particularly pronounced for young men suffering from social anxiety disorder, who are often held back from meaningful social interactions by a crippling fear of negative evaluation.

Entourage was one of 13 projects funded by the Movember Foundation and beyondblue in 2017 to develop an innovative, outside-the-box product to increase the quantity and quality of men’s relationships, and thereby improve their mental wellbeing. The overarching aim of the Entourage project was to develop a sustainable social enterprise for the delivery of gender-sensitive online interventions for young men experiencing social anxiety. The resulting Entourage online social therapy platform provides a safe and private online space for socially anxious young men and women to connect with one another and take social risks, while collaboratively working through evidence-based therapeutic interventions for social anxiety disorder and co-occurring mental health conditions.

Our team is currently investigating the acceptability, safety and preliminary effectiveness of Entourage as an integrated treatment for young people accessing in-person psychological support. 110 young people with social anxiety will be recruited from headspace services in Western Melbourne and offered Entourage alongside their usual care for a period of 3 months. We hope to demonstrate that online social therapy can support socially anxious young men to build social confidence, forge meaningful connections, and overcome loneliness and isolation.

Entourage would not be possible without the generous support of the Movember Foundation, the Telstra Foundation, Telstra Gurrowa Innovation Lab, the Social Connectedness Laboratory at Swinburne University of Technology, and headspace: Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation.