Mental Health Clinical Trials

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Learn about clinical trials for mental health conditions, then search for mental health clinical trials such as clinical trials for depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Choosing to participate in a clinical trial is an important personal decision. The following frequently asked questions provide detailed information about clinical trials. In addition, it is often helpful to talk to a physician, family members, or friends about deciding to join a trial. After identifying some trial options, the next step is to contact the study research staff and ask questions about specific trials.

What is a clinical trial?

Clinical trials are research studies that test how well new medical approaches work in people. Each study answers scientific questions and tries to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose or treat a disease. Clinical trials may also compare a new treatment to a treatment that is already available.

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Although there are many definitions of clinical trials, they are generally considered to be biomedical or health-related research studies in human beings that follow a pre-defined protocol. Clinical trials are generally broken into two categories: interventional and observational types of studies. Interventional studies are those in which the research subjects are assigned by the investigator to a treatment or other intervention, and their outcomes are measured. Observational studies are those in which individuals are observed and their outcomes are measured by the investigators.

Why participate in a clinical trial?

Participants in clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and help others by contributing to medical research.

Who can participate in a clinical trial?

Every clinical trial has a protocol, or action plan, for conducting the trial. The plan describes what will be done in the study, how it will be conducted, and why each part of the study is necessary. Each study has its own rules about who can participate. Some studies need volunteers with a certain disease. Some need healthy people. Others want just men or just women.

All clinical trials have guidelines about who can participate. Using inclusion/exclusion criteria is an important principle of medical research that helps to produce reliable results. The factors that allow someone to participate in a clinical trial are called "inclusion criteria" and those that disallow someone from participating are called "exclusion criteria". These criteria are based on such factors as age, gender, the type and stage of a disease, previous treatment history, and other medical conditions. Before joining a clinical trial, a participant must qualify for the study. Some research studies seek participants with illnesses or conditions to be studied in the clinical trial, while others need healthy participants. It is important to note that inclusion and exclusion criteria are not used to reject people personally. Instead, the criteria are used to identify appropriate participants and keep them safe. The criteria help ensure that researchers will be able to answer the questions they plan to study.

What happens during a clinical trial?

The clinical trial process depends on the kind of trial being conducted (See What are the different types of clinical trials?) The clinical trial team includes doctors and nurses as well as social workers and other health care professionals. They check the health of the participant at the beginning of the trial, give specific instructions for participating in the trial, monitor the participant carefully during the trial, and stay in touch after the trial is completed.

Some clinical trials involve more tests and doctor visits than the participant would normally have for an illness or condition. For all types of trials, the participant works with a research team. Clinical trial participation is most successful when the protocol is carefully followed and there is frequent contact with the research staff.

What is informed consent?

Before you take part in a clinical study, it is important to fully understand it and to understand what participation may be like. Researchers will help by providing an "informed consent" statement. This is a document that has detailed information about the study, including its length, the number of visits required, and the medical procedures and medications in which you will take part. The document also provides expected outcomes, potential benefits, possible risks, any available treatment alternatives, expenses, terms of confidentiality, and contact information for people you can call if you have questions or concerns. When needed, a translator may be provided.

Researchers will review the informed consent statement with you and answer your questions. If you decide to participate after reviewing the statement, getting all the information you need, and talking with staff and your family, you will need to sign the informed consent statement. Your signature indicates that you understand the study and agree to participate voluntarily. You may still leave a study at any time and for any reason even after signing the informed consent document.

Sometimes, a potential participant may not be able to give informed consent because of memory problems or mental confusion. Someone else, usually a family member with a durable power of attorney, can give consent for that participant. That caregiver must be confident there is small risk to the participant, and that he or she would have agreed to consent if able to do so.

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