There are dozens of possible reasons why a person chooses to participate in research. Most people do it simply to help further our understanding of mental illness or other conditions. There are even services such as Patients Like Me and SmartPatients.org that hope to help make research more collaborative — collecting anonymized data on thousands of patients so it may one day be used to help unlock mysteries of an illness.
Although remarkable progress has been made in our understanding of mental illness in recent decades, some treatments are not effective for all persons or may have significant side effects. There is still so much more that we simply don’t know about mental illness and its causes. Thus, most people who agree to take part in research studies or clinical trials for mental illness hope the research will produce knowledge about the disease itself. For example, what role do genetics play in the cause of mental illness, or about personalized medicine treatments that will benefit them directly.
One of the potential benefits of participating in a clinical trial, too, is that a person may get to try out a new treatment before it is readily available. Even if the aim of a study is not to test the effectiveness of a new treatment, the research may offer a degree of care that you might not get otherwise. Such care may allow the investigators to monitor your symptoms very closely to be sure of your diagnosis.
Medical, psychological, and behavioral research are our best hope for better understanding of and treatments for mental illnesses. Although most who take part in research hope to benefit themselves, they may also simply wish to help others, which is a reward in itself.
There are also some not-so-good reasons that some people participate in clinical trials or other mental health research. Some people may participate in the research only for the monetary reward, although such payments are usually quite small. And some people may do so because they were pressured to do so by a family member or healthcare professional. (You should never agree to a research study due to someone pressuring you to join it.) While these are less common cases, some people do participate in research for these kinds of less-than-ideal reasons.
Without research into the causes and effective treatments for mental illness, we would still be back in the dark ages of our understanding of these illnesses. It’s important that people continue to participate in clinical trials and other research to increase our knowledge about mental health disorders.