Studies have shown that creative activities like writing, drawing or knitting can help reduce depression, stress and anxiety, but scientists aren’t yet certain how creative thinking might help individuals shift out of negative thought patterns and into more flexible states of mind.

Kathryn Cullen, MD

“My research has been trying to understand the neurobiology of depression in young people,” said Kathryn Cullen, MD, (pictured at left) associate professor and head of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “How are brain circuits different in adolescence? How are they developing, and how do they change with interventions?”

Dr. Cullen, along with a diverse, multidisciplinary team, is investigating how creative therapies might help adolescents experiencing depression through their project, “Measuring and Enhancing Creativity and Brain Flexibility in Adolescents with Depression.” Dr. Cullen, the project’s principal investigator, assembled a team of faculty and staff from across the University of Minnesota system – including the Medical School, College of Design, School of Public Health, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota Rochester and Weisman Art Museum – to advance new interventions for adolescents experiencing depression, since traditional treatments aren’t always effective for everyone. 

The project’s eight co-investigators incorporated insights to develop a Creativity Camp designed to help young people with depression shift out of negative thought patterns through engagement in creative activities. The project was awarded one of two $250,000 Minnesota Futures Awards, presented annually by the Office of the Vice President for Research, and will extend for two years.

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