Lawrence University professor develops app to combat depression in teens


Groundbreaking work to fight depression in youth is happening right here in northeast Wisconsin.

One professor at Lawrence University is using her experience in psychology and technology to pinpoint which teens will develop chronic depression as adults.

Psychology professor Lori Hilt has studied depression for years.

But with a grant totaling more than $360, 000 she’s taking her studies to another level.

She’s developed an app to do it.

“The app notifies them three times a day and each time they use the app it asks them questions like, ‘what are you doing right now’, ‘where is your mind at’, ‘how are you feeling?'” says Hilt.

What’s called adolescent rumination is at the center of the study.

Rumination happens when individuals are fixated on the on the negstive things happening to them, rather than reacting to them and moving on.

“Rumination is what we call a risk factor for depression and anxiety and other things,” says Hilt. “By definition it’s something that we think comes before something that happens later like depression. What we’re trying to do is measure it and intervene at this stage in early adolescence, before depression first develops.”

Over the next three years, Hilt and her team of student researchers will analyze 150 adolescents between the ages of 12-15.

A hefty study like this requires many hands and could include the assistance of up to 20 Lawrence student researchers.

“One of the aspects I like about this is that it’s really working with the community to solve problems that affect the community and affect adolescents,” says student researcher Liesl Hostetter.

Adolescent participants will use the app to answer questions about how they feel.

If rumination is apparent the app walks them through mindfullness exercises, lasting anywhere from one to 10 minutes.

“They help put the participant in the present moment,” says Hilt. “They get to practice these techniques of mindfulness and that way we can look at if they do this three times a day for three weeks, we’re going to see how that might impact in their emotions.”

The study has a long way to go – Hilt is on month seven of the three-year-long endeavor.

If you know an adolescent between the ages of 12 to 15 who might want to participate in this study, email to receive more information or sign up.

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