Acute and chronic psychological distress are prevalent during adolescence and can have negative impacts on adolescents in all life domains. The aim of this systematic review was to appraise the use of virtual reality (VR) interventions to manage symptoms of psychological distress symptoms among adolescents. MEDLINE, PubMed, PsycINFO, and Scopus databases were searched up to June 2020. Available citations were de-duplicated and screened by two authors using title and abstract information. A total of 301 articles were retained for full-text evaluation next to eligibility criteria. Empirical studies of all designs and comparator groups were included if these appraised the impact of an immersive VR intervention on any standardized measure indicative of psychological distress in an adolescent sample. Data were extracted into a standardized coding sheet. Results were tabulated and discussed with a narrative synthesis due to the heterogeneity between studies. A total of seven studies met inclusion criteria. There were four randomized controlled trials and three uncontrolled pilot studies on new VR interventions. Distress-related issues included: state-anxiety, venepuncture, risk taking, public speaking anxiety, social anxiety disorder, sexual victimization, and chemotherapy administration. All studies reported significant changes on outcome measures after VR treatment. Six studies reported small-to-large reductions in symptoms. The average attrition rate was 3.6 percent during the active VR treatment phase. Treatment acceptability was high in the studies that assessed user engagement factors. The VR technology can provide a safe, rapidly efficacious, and acceptable treatment modality for managing psychological distress in several key adolescent populations.
Keywords: adolescents; anxiety; distress; mental health; therapy; virtual reality.