Dr. Galen McNeil, UCLA Semel Institute

AIM Implementation & Equity Grantee: Dr. Galen McNeil

Although effective treatments exist for youth anxiety, most youth never access them. Waitlist times are at an all-me high, fed both by a worldwide mental health crisis and the fact that most treatments take extended periods to work. There is growing recognition that brief, scalable, and accessible interventions are needed to address this crisis. Burgeoning evidence suggests that youth who receive even single-session interventions fare beer than those who receive none, and that these effects were greatest for anxious children.

Typical anxiety interventions work by targeting fears and worries and reducing corresponding avoidance behavior. Less work has examined how to bolster positive emotions for anxious youth. Positive emotions such as joy, love, and gratitude expand our thinking and facilitate approach behaviors – enabling us to build social and emotional resources. More frequent positive emotion experiences increase resilience and lead to greater well-being (Cohn et al., 2009). Furthermore, robust evidence suggests that actively cultivating positive emotional experiences, including through practices of Loving-Kindness and Appreciate Joy, can strengthen overall positive emotionality and reduce symptoms in clinically anxious adults. In children, positive affect is associated with many beneficial outcomes such as increased life satisfaction and higher-quality relationships. Despite strong evidence for the benefits of positive emotion, little is known about how to help children cultivate them.

This project proposes a pilot randomized-controlled trial of the Youth Intervention for Positive Emotion Enhancement (YIPEE) protocol for treatment-seeking anxious youth and their caregivers. This novel, brief two-session intervention adapts two Buddhist meditation practices, Loving-Kindness and Appreciative Joy, both of which significantly increase positive emotion in adults. Caregivers will be involved to promote socialization of positive emotion after sessions, encourage homework compliance, and facilitate generalizability of skills. Administration over Telehealth will reduce barriers for lower resourced populations, and the strengths-based focus may make this intervention more appealing to communities where mental illness is stigmatized. To enhance immediate impact, we will recruit from an existing clinic waitlist.

Innovation & Impact: If successful, this project will provide support for long-term follow up examining whether this novel intervention enhances subsequent treatment efficacy or negates the need for additional clinical intervention.

Specific Aims
Aim 1: To examine the feasibility and acceptability of YIPEE for treatment-seeking anxious youth via a waitlist controlled RCT.

Aim 2: To examine outcomes with respect to increasing positive emotions, reducing anxiety and stress, strengthening resilience, and continued interest in anxiety treatment.