Help Others with Mental Illness: Participate in Research

research01Have you ever wanted to help others who suffer from mental illness without going public with your own experiences?

Participating in research studies—by the way, like SOVA!—is a great way to do just that.

There are two main types of research studies: observational studies and clinical trials/experiments. The most important distinction to understand is that observational studies do not involve any sort of treatment, while clinical trials test a new medication, therapy, or intervention and compare its effects to a control group that does not receive the treatment.

Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions for those interested in participating in research studies:

Will my information be kept private?

Yes. It is illegal for labs to share your personal medical information. In “randomized” studies, researchers will assign you a number and from that point on, your name will never be used. As they analyze your data, it attached only to that number. Your information will be kept private and will not be shared with anyone.

I don’t want to try a new or experimental medication. Can I still participate?

Yes. Although many clinical trials do involve experimental treatments such as medications and therapies, you can participate in observational studies. In these, researchers study participants without applying a treatment, often using methods like imaging, blood draws, and questionnaires.

Is participation in research studies dangerous?

Most research studies pose very few risks. Researchers are required to disclose any and all risks in the study’s consent form that is shared with participants before they agree to take part. If you are worried about risks, ask the researchers and they can answer your questions before you decide to participate.

Are MRI studies dangerous? Will I be harmed by radiation?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a technique often used in research studies. MRI is commonly used in mental health studies to obtain images of the brain at rest and during various cognitive tasks. Unlike x-rays and other types of imaging, MRIs use magnets instead of radiation, and they are incredibly safe. For more information on the safety of MRIs, check out this link.

What if partway through the study I decide I don’t like the treatment and want to stop?

As a research participant, you have the right to drop out of a study at any time. If the study is conducted at the institution or office where you regularly receive treatment, you will not lose access to your doctor or to any other services because you withdrew from a study.

Will I get paid? How much?

Most studies that involve traveling to a lab or to a medical center pay subjects a stipend. Some online studies also compensate participants. The amount varies greatly depending on the study, but many in-person studies involving compensation pay $15-30 per hour.

I know I’d be helping other people, but would I benefit from participating in research studies?

By joining clinical trials, patients may receive free treatment either as part of the study, or after the study. Treatment studies can also be beneficial to you if the treatment used in the study ends up helping to improve your mental health. Observational studies usually do not directly or immediately help participants make progress with their illnesses, but by participating, you may ultimately help yourself and other sufferers by helping scientists discover new effective treatments. Even if you have a busy schedule, you can likely find online studies or studies that you can contribute to from your home.

I want to participate! Where can I find relevant studies?

Keep an eye out for flyers when you are at your doctor’s office, because studies often advertise at medical centers. Here are some websites that list opportunities:

National Institute on Mental Health’s “Join a Study”

A Facebook page with opportunities to participate in online research

International OCD Foundation’s list of research opportunities

Pitt Plus Me—The University of Pittsburgh



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