BSc, MSc (Clin. Psych.), PhD (Melbourne)



Psychology
2020

The overarching question that has motivated Nick Allen’s program of research is how we can prevent the onset of depressive and related mental health disorders during adolescence.

His early work addressed the role of affective processes in clinical depression, especially using biological measures to address fundamental questions regarding the role of these processes in the onset and maintenance of depressive disorders. Having noted the unique importance of adolescence as a period of risk for the onset of depressive disorders, Dr. Allen then completed postdoctoral work using longitudinal techniques to study risk factors during adolescence, and began to explore the links between adolescent development and risk processes using a developmental psychopathology perspective.

In his early career as an independent researcher, he combined his prior experience using multi-level measures (i.e., biological, psychological, environmental) with his experience using community-based prospective longitudinal studies of risk processes to lead a series of innovative longitudinal studies of risk for mental disorders in adolescent samples. These studies especially focused on the role of brain development as a salient mediator of the relationship between environmental risk factors and adolescent onset mental disorders, but also addressed other key putative mechanisms such as autonomic physiology, genetic risk, immunology, and sleep. In these studies, family processes served as a model environmental risk factor for depression during adolescence by using direct observation of family behaviors to provide a detailed and ecologically valid account of the specific behavioral patterns that might confer risk for depression, both as direct effects and in interaction with biological risk factors.

More recently Dr. Allen’s work has also focused on translating finding from these longitudinal studies into preventative approaches by identifying modifiable, developmentally targeted risk factors for adolescent onset mental health problems, and designing and testing interventions to address these. For example, he has completed a large randomized controlled trial of a preventative sleep improvement intervention, and he is also conducting trials of other innovative preventative approaches (e.g., parenting, mindfulness, outdoor wilderness activities), aimed at early to mid-adolescence as a key inflection point in life for health trajectories. His work has also begun to focus on the use of mobile and wearable technology to monitor risk for poor mental health, and his group has developed software tools that combine active and passive sensing methods to provide intensive longitudinal assessment of behavior with minimal participant burden. This work aims develop a new generation of “just-in-time” behavioral interventions for early intervention and prevention of adolescent health problems. 

Ann Swindells Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oregon

Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne

Fellow of the Australian Clinical Psychology Association

1. Dahl, R.E., Allen, N.B., Wilbrecht, L. & Suleiman, A.B. (2018). Importance of investing in adolescence from a developmental science perspective. Nature, 554 (7693), 441-450.

2. Patton, G. C., Sawyer, S. M., Santelli, J. S., Ross, D. A., Afifi, R., Allen, N. B., ... & Kakuma, R. (2016). Our future: A Lancet commission on adolescent health and wellbeing. The Lancet387(10036), 2423-2478.

3. Blake, M.J., Waloszek, J., Schwartz, O., Raniti, M., Simmons, J.G., Blake, L., Murray, G.W., Dahl, R., Bootzin, R., Dudgeon, P., Trinder, J., & Allen, N.B. (2016). The SENSE Study: Post intervention effects of a randomized controlled trial of a cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness-based group sleep improvement intervention among at-risk adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 4(12), 1039-1051.

4. Whittle, S., Vijayakumar, N., Simmons, J.G., Dennison, M., Schwartz, O.S., Pantelis, C., Sheeber, L., Byrne, M.L., & Allen, N.B. (2017). Role of positive parenting in the association between neighborhood social disadvantage and brain development across adolescence. JAMA Psychiatry, 74 (8), 824-832.

5. Allen, N., & Badcock, P. (2003). The Social Risk Hypothesis of Depressed Mood: Evolutionary, Psychosocial, and Neurobiological Perspectives. Psychological Bulletin, 129(6), 887-913.