Gheorg – an app to help kids with anxiety

Why was Gheorg created? 

Anxiety is a serious health issue in Australia. Anxiety can have serious lifelong impacts which can include learning challenges, interpersonal challenges, career challenges and mental health challenges. When I started studying to be a psychologist 30 years ago, only around 2% of kids in Australia experienced diagnosable anxiety. In 2019 before the devastating bushfires and before COVID-19, rates of diagnosable anxiety in children were said to be at 20%. These numbers have increased far too quickly and are far too high.

When I had my own son and I started speaking with child educators who really wanted to help the growing number of kids with anxiety, I realised something needed to change. Someone had to start working on the accessibility of getting help for these kids as soon as possible. And I realised that had to be me.

Realising how much the rates of anxiety had increased over time, I knew that it had nothing to do with how well you parent your child. So I knew that my child would not be immune to having anxiety just because I might happen to have some knowledge from my experience as a psychologist.

It was around five years ago when I had the idea for a robot friend who could support kids in a different way to parents and therapists. I knew that technology could be used to provide extra support for kids outside of therapy sessions. Technology can never replace human interaction, and I don’t think it ever will. But technology can be a tool, an aide, and a support system that encourages us to make better life choices.

In 2019, I created Gheorg (pronounced “George”) which is a friendly virtual robot app that’s designed to support kids with anxiety. We launched a beta version of the app in early 2020 and Gheorg went live on the Apple and Google app stores in mid September.

And 2020 has been a really challenging year in a lot of ways and we’ve seen that children are more anxious after bushfires and dealing with the effects of COVID-19. Children have adjusted to a new way of learning from home, and now are beginning to re-adjust to going back to school. These major changes have caused anxiety in children, stress for parents and overwhelm for whole families. We’re already getting really positive feedback from parents that after interacting with Gheorg, kids know they can use the app when they’re feeling stressed and we hope to hear more stories of kids feeling empowered to make themselves feel calm when they’re feeling triggered.

What does Gheorg do? About the app and features.

We’ve created Gheorg in partnership with families, health professionals and educators around Australia. We’re really trying to provide a solution that supports kids to learn about their mental wellbeing and provide strategies to manage their emotions.

Gheorg was designed with positive psychology principles and uses Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) within the app. We launched Gheorg onto the app stores with three main features. Kids perform daily check-ins where they share their emotions, they can learn more about those emotions and choose to do exercises that can make them feel better. There’s a breathing exercise that can help kids feel calm straight away if they’re feeling stressed. 

Gheorg has been designed for 7-12 year olds currently as the app requires some ability to read and write, but we are working hard to make Gheorg available for older and younger kids. Our dream is to make Gheorg available to all kids in Australia to empower kids with awareness around their emotions and mental health.

One of the biggest issues for families is the incredibly long waiting lists to see a psychologist and get treatment. So Gheorg fills that gap. Gheorg isn’t designed to replace psychologists but to complement positive mental health initiatives. 

How does Gheorg support 1:1 therapy? Gheorg complements and doesn’t replace in-person therapy

Many children are first flagged as possibly having anxiety by an amazing teacher or parent. At that stage, most children have had the condition for around five years on average. Then usually a parent takes the kids to their GP or paediatrician for an initial diagnosis and then they are directed to a psychologist.

Many kids are waiting up to six months to even start treatment with a psychologist. During that time, a lot of kids adapt and learn to hide what they are experiencing so parents sometimes let it go and the mental health care plan is never used. For those kids that eventually get to the psychologist, they are at risk of losing six months of their learning and friendship development and are more likely to experience high stress during that time.

The Gheorg app is designed to fill that gap between a teacher or parent noticing that a child has anxiety and then the treatment being provided by a psychologist. Gheorg cannot replace a human being, I would argue that no technology can do that, nor should it. Gheorg helps kids as soon as they might need help. We’re adding more features to Gheorg that will help parents collect a symptom and behaviour history that then can be used by a psychologist later which speeds up the help that our amazing psychologists provide.

Gheorg is also great for just building resilience so even if a child might just be going through a challenging time, teachers or parents can suggest Gheorg as a preventative mental health assistant to provide that extra support at home.

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Dr Louise Metcalf, Founder & CEO, Gheorg, B.A. (Psych) (Hons), M.APP.PSYCH (Org), M.B.A., M.Bus.Anal., PhD, MAAPi

Dr Louise Metcalf is a Psychologist with over 30 years of experience helping people create better lives and healthier brains. Louise has worked in multiple sectors as a psychologist and has a keen interest in positive psychological change. Louise values the way one individual person can make a difference, and has a strong interest in brain health and resilience. After years of supporting children with anxiety and mental wellbeing, Louise had the idea for a robot that can help kids with their anxiety. Now launched in app form, Gheorg the friendly robot empowers children with emotional intelligence and mental wellbeing through check-ins and meditation exercises.

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