AIM Clinical Science Fellow, Hannah Lawrence
Dr. Hannah Lawrence, Harvard 

AIM Clinical Science Fellow Grantee: Hannah Rose Lawrence, PhD


About Dr. Lawrence:
Dr. Hannah Lawrence is a postdoctoral research fellow at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School in the Treatment and Etiology of Depression in Youth Laboratory.

Dr. Lawrence’s program of research examines the role of problematic cognitions, or thinking patterns, in youth internalizing disorders and tests the efficacy of new interventions designed to help youth disengage from these negative thinking patterns. She aims to develop treatments that are scalable and delivered to youth in the very moments in which they need support.

The Study:
Both depression and anxiety are characterized by repetitive negative thought (RNT), or patterns of problematic overthinking such as rumination and worry. During adolescence, rates of depression and anxiety increase substantially at the same time that attentional and cognitive control abilities are still developing, making it difficult for adolescents to disengage from RNT. Intervening by teaching adolescents’ skills to stop RNT has potential to reduce risk for depression and anxiety concurrently.

In this AIM funded study, adolescents (age range: 13-17) will undergo a fMRI brain scan to probe the neural correlates of RNT. They will then receive smartphone-delivered surveys assessing RNT, anxiety, and depressive symptoms four times daily for four weeks. For the latter three weeks, when adolescents report RNT on surveys they will be prompted on their smartphone to complete a brief mindfulness exercise to help them disengage from RNT. To assess whether this intervention has lasting effects, adolescents will complete a follow-up assessment of RNT, anxiety, and depressive symptoms 3 months later.

This study is well-positioned to test whether a smartphone-delivered mindfulness intervention reduces anxiety and depressive symptoms in adolescents by helping them disengage from RNT. By delivering mindfulness skills in response to adolescents’ reports that they are engaged in RNT, adolescents receive support in the very moments and settings in which they need them. In addition, this approach is highly scalable, and thus has potential to reach a greater number of adolescents than traditional psychotherapy, increasing access to care for the many youth who need mental health support.

“AIM Youth Mental Health has made impressive strides in increasing access to effective treatments for youth in need of mental healthcare. I look forward to contributing to these efforts, providing youth with mindfulness skills to help them disengage from patterns of overthinking to hopefully reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms concurrently. By delivering this treatment over smartphone there is potential to scale this intervention to reach the many youth suffering from anxiety and depressive symptoms and in need of evidence-based mental health strategies.” -Dr. Hannah Lawrence