Niamh MacSweeney

Thesis title: In search of biopsychosocial risk and resilience factors for adolescent depression


I graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 2018 with a First Class, joint-honours degree in Psychology and English Literature. My final year thesis leveraged a novel behavioural assay of coping and investigated its relationship with depressive symptom severity in female adolescents.  I worked as a research assistant with Dr Clare Kelly at IMMALab, Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, from June 2017 to September 2018 on a Brain and Behaviour funded project investigating the neural correlates of coping and emotion regulation in adolescent depression. In May 2018, I was awarded a Mental Health Research UK PhD Scholarship, and began my PhD in January 2019 at the University of Edinburgh. My PhD thesis will examine bio-psycho-social risk and resilience factors associated with adolescent depression. My PhD is  supervised by Dr Heather Whalley, Prof. Stephen Lawrie, and Dr Alex Kwong. 


Bachelor of Arts (B.A), Psychology with English Literature, First-Class Honours. 

Research summary

The overarching theme of my research interests is youth mental health. I am particularly interested in the biological, psychological, and social  risk and reslience mechanisms associated with adolescent depression. I was first drawn to this area during the later years of my undergraduate studies, where I undertook a research project investigating the neurcognitive bases of coping in female adolescents with depressive symptoms. This neuroimaging study leveraged a novel behavioural assay of coping and examined its relationship with depression symptom severity and resting state functional connectivity. My doctoral work continues to focus on adolescent depression from a neurobiological and psychosocial perspective. My PhD research uses big data resouces, such as the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study to answer my research questions. I am particularly interested in the interplay between biological factors, such as pubertal development, brain structure and how this may confer risk for depression during adolescence. This work is funded my Mental Health Research UK.


I am passionate about Open Research practices and strive to implement these at every stage of my research workflow. I am the co-founder and organiser of Edinburgh ReproducibiliTea, a monthly Open Research Journal Club (Twitter: @Edinburgh_Tea; Youtube: and also a member of the Edinburgh Open Research Initiative (

Current research interests

Adolescent depression; depression-related imaging features; risk and resilience mechanisms; bio-psycho-social model; coping styles; depression sub-types.

Past research interests

Adolescent depression; translational science; functional neuroimaging; coping; developmental neuropsychology.

Knowledge exchange

I am a keen communicator of science and regularly participate in public engagement events with the Division of Psychiatry and Edinburgh Neuroscience. I am also passionate about meaningful youth involvement in research. I was awarded a Royal Society STEM Partnership grant with Musselburgh Grammar School in 2019 to undertake a project with students on the biology of mood.  I was a 3 Mintute Thesis  Unversity of Edinburgh finalist in 2019 (

I was the founder and co-ordinator of IMMAlab Young Persons' Advisory Group at TCD, and a team partner on Project Soothe's Young Citizen Scientists Project at the University of Edinburgh.

Affiliated research centres

  • Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences