10th November 2022 Blog

When taking part in research is your service

#MentalHealthResearchMatters • Peer research •

#MentalHealthResearchMatters and is a force for good, writes Thomas Kabir, McPin’s head of Public Involvement in Research. Taking part in research can also help both the person volunteering to participate in the study and society – find out why.

A graphic of two cars with a family in one and a woman in a headscarf in the other. Quote reads:

It’s no secret that the NHS is under pressure. Waiting lists for operations are higher than they have been for years.

The reasons for this might be complicated but the effects are not.

People across the country are facing long waiting lists for physical and mental health support or treatment. But taking part in research opens other options.

In some cases, taking part in research could actually be exactly what you need.

Let’s take the case of talking therapies for people with psychosis. According to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) people with psychosis should be offered access to effective talking therapies (see p13 of the following 2019 document from NICE).

Yet according to this same document only a small proportion actually receive talking therapy. That’s not great.

However, by taking part in research in some parts of the country people have been able to access a high-quality experimental talking therapy for psychosis with almost no waiting list.

The study in question was the Feeling Safe study which was led by Oxford University. We at the McPin Foundation provided the public involvement for the study as well as carrying out interviews with study participants.

One thing which really struck me about this study is that participants could get rapid access to an experimental therapy with a highly trained clinical psychologist.

In such a study there are often two groups. One receives the intervention (in this case, psychological therapy). The other receives their normal care, or a control intervention. In the case of the Feeling Safe study, that control intervention was befriending.

The great thing about the study is that either way people seemed to get something that was beneficial. You can read about the results of the study here.

That’s not always the case though as often the control group just gets their standard care. But even in these cases there seems to be some anecdotal evidence that people still benefit. This is because taking part in research often involves quite a bit of contact with health professionals. It means that people are checking in on you. And that’s a good thing.

Access to new treatments

So, what am I trying to say? The NHS is stretched. More investment in our mental health services should be made. But, if it feels right for you, taking part in research might give you access to new experimental treatments that may really help you.

Even if the research involves you being in a group where you just get your standard care, you may still benefit. Either way you would be helping the research process, which may lead to a new way of understanding and treating a mental health issue.

In other words, sometimes taking part in research can essentially be the service that you receive through the NHS for a period of time.

Finding an approach that works for you

Of course, research is not without risk.  Taking part in research will not always be the best approach for everyone. It’s important that anyone taking part in mental health research is fully informed about what volunteering to participate will actually involve. And what the potential risks are.

It is of course possible that the treatment being studied (for example) may not work.  People need to be given the time to weigh things up, ask questions, and make an informed decision about whether they want to take part or not. There are no guarantees until the study is complete that what is being provided will be effective.

But nevertheless, I believe that research is very much a force for good. One that can give people options, possibly  treatment, and could give others hope for the future.

To me mental health research doesn’t just matter, it matters a lot!

Visit the campaign website for more

To find a study that you may be interested in taking part in please click here: https://bepartofresearch.nihr.ac.uk

The Mental Health Research Matters campaign is sparking a conversation about why mental health research matters, what good mental health research looks like and how we can all make a difference. Tell us why #MentalHealthResearchMatters on Twitter, using the hashtag and tagging in @McPinFoundation.

In November the campaign is running free weekly webinars on mental health research. Book your place now.