Understanding Anxiety and Depression: The RAD Project

Understanding Anxiety and Depression: The RAD Project

Anxiety and depression touch all of us. Yet, the understanding of anxiety and depression remains limited.

There are still some myths, such as the idea that successful people are “immune” from depression, and that treatment can rely solely on “trying harder”.

Our goal is to understand the brain changes that generate individual experiences of anxiety and depression.  We also seek to understand how these brain changes contribute to the impact on personal lives: effects on relationships and work, for instance.

We envision the discovery of new ways to classify anxiety and depression. With new classifications it will be possible to select treatments will be most effective for each person. The RAD project is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and conducted by Leanne Williams, Ph.D.

How can I participate?

Contact us at radproject@stanford.edu or (650) 600 -1609.  We would be happy to answer any questions.


What will be involved?

There will be three main components:

  • Surveys: You will read and answer surveys about your physical and emotional health on a computer.
  • Computer assessments: You will read instructions to complete game-like tasks. These tasks are self-paced and are also done on a computer.
  • Brain scan: There will be an MRI scan, in which you complete a head scan while completing another set of game-like tasks.


mri What is a brain scan?
Brain scans consist of various methods to capture the image, structure, and functioning of the brain. In our study, we use Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which is a safe, painless, and non-invasive scan that uses magnets to display a detailed view of the brain’s anatomy. No X-rays or radioactive material are used.


What are the risks?
There are no physical risks involved in the study. The MRI scan is safe and non-invasive and our staff are trained to guide you and handle the equipment. The only risk may be slight discomfort due to answering personal questions.



computerWhat are the computer tasks?
The tasks are done on a computer with a mouse, or with a touchscreen. They rely on your attention and memory, but there are no right or wrong answers.


Who can participate in this study?
Completion of our study will rely on your comfort to work on a computer, read and listen to instructions in English, and lie down with your head in the scanner. Because MRI is a magnetic technique, if you have any of the following, you would be unable to take part in this study:

  • Implanted metallic devices, such as pacemakers, plates, nuts, and screws
  • You are pregnant
  • You have claustrophobia

Frequently Asked Questions

What diagnoses are we including?
GAD, SAD, PTSD, MDD, OCD, Panic Disorder, Bipolar Disorder Type 2, phobias, and any combination of these. Psychotic disorder as the primary presentation is an exclusion criteria because psychosis is likely to involve different brain systems.

Are we including clients who have some symptoms but don’t necessarily meet criteria for a DSM diagnosis?
Yes, since we want to evaluate anxiety as a dimension.

Are we including clients with substance use?
Yes, except clients who are regularly using substances to the extent that meets criteria for substance dependence, which would be likely to interfere with the assessments.

Are we including gender-neutral participants?
Yes, we want the study to reflect the real world of all clients. We have gender-neutral restrooms in our building to accommodate all participants.

Which medications are ruled out?
Antidepressants: Ruled out if you have taken them regularly within the past week.

What do participants receive?
Participants will receive compensation in the form of gift cards. We will organize parking and food for when they take breaks. We can also provide a copy of the brain scan image.

What is the process for accepting participants?
We err on the side of being inclusive, and the research assistants on the study will complete a formal screen for interested participants.