• Joanna Thomson

Dealing with depression: how to successfully run mental health research

While depression research studies have thankfully had a lot of coverage over the lockdown period, ultimately raising awareness and helping the most vulnerable through this tough time, these trials have also brought to light a critical flaw in mental health research: there is an evident lack of existing data.


According to Dr. Rasenick of the University of Illinois, mental health research has become stagnant by a lack of comprehensive knowledge surrounding depression and the effects of antidepressants. Equally, a 2017 report by the World Psychiatric Association notes that ‘the overall quality of mental health care in the US has hardly improved’ since a similar report of 2006; with little improvement directly linked to a lack of systematic methods for measuring quality. Not only has there been a lack of successful research performed over the last ten years, but there are systemic issues that the industry must reevaluate moving forward.


It’s now essential that researchers in the field address these underlying issues in order to run successful clinical studies today. Check out our breakdown of some of the key patient-first protocols employed by industry-leading research on depression, and find out how to strengthen the framework of your own study.


Open up the conversation

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll be surprised how little researchers actually talk - or talk effectively - to potential and existing patients. A survey on patient-research communication, published in the Ochsner Journal, reports that participants felt underwhelmed by interaction with researchers, with most complaints related to issues of communication, not clinical competency. What patients want is to feel included. According to NHS England, it’s thought that around 40% of patients actively desire to be involved in their own treatment. Research sites must reserve a seat at the table for patients to ensure that candidates taking part in mental health studies feel the benefits of the research.

Making your clinical research more accessible from the get-go is paramount to turning this principle into practice. Broaden your means of communication and your research should appear more trustworthy and relatable to the average person. Print your contact details online and on handouts for local clinics; making sure to include your social media and video call handles. While it's important to uphold professional conduct, don’t get totally hung up on formality. A reserved manner and a strict tone will only alienate patients. Remember: the researcher-patient relationship is like any other bond, two people coming together over a common cause.

Address the patient - not the illness


The priority for mental health research sites today is to spread awareness and de-stigmatize the condition. While this effort might seem redundant in our modern age of mental health, bear in mind it was only a few hundred years ago we stopped branding mental illness as “madness.” How society views depression is primarily controlled by our medical professionals. So, if a clinical study calls patients "sufferers," what does this say about the condition as a whole?


Over the last fifty years, there has been a lot of positive change concerning individual autonomy and decision-making. The progressive view upheld by mental health organizations is this: patients must retain their own sense of self, and must not be defined by their illness. The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to be challenged by medical specialists. Never talk about the patient as if they’re not in the room listening - even if their mental state is deteriorated and you’re speaking with a caregiver, always keep their dignity and humanity in mind. This level of care is absolutely essential to maintaining a patient-first approach that ultimately helps with high patient engagement and retention.


(Check out our key strategies for tackling stigma in the health industry, here).


Digitalize your approach


Over the last few years, there has been a wealth of literature produced that links anxiety and depression with the use of technology. For instance, back in 2012, a team at the University of Gothenburg found that ‘heavy [mobile] use showed an increase in sleep disorders in men and an increase in depressive symptoms in both men and women’. With more and more clinical studies producing similar results every year, now really is the time for mental health researchers to make their mark on the internet to try and counteract the issue.

It’s of the highest importance that, while digitization has the potential to bring a lot of benefits for the researcher, that we remember communication is a two-way process. Therefore, it is vital that research sites use these platforms not merely as a means to observe their subjects and their behaviors, but as a prime opportunity to survey their patients’ thoughts and fears. In this, lies the key to improving the industry’s anxiety over the researcher-patient relationship that sees around 85% of trials fail to retain patients until the end of a study.


A recent report by Forte Research found that 48% of patients who dropped out of the studies surveyed said they were primarily motivated by “myself” to stay enrolled. If we compare this with the 20% who listed “their relationship with the study staff” as a motivational factor, it’s clear that feelings of isolation seem to be a common occurrence among patients. By providing an online or in-app platform for patients to discuss their worries, researchers can utilize the full extent of benefits provided by digitization that, ultimately, works to shape clinical trials into comfortable and patient-friendly environments.



Here at Citruslabs, we've developed the ideal patient recruitment dashboard to help any researcher improve their current metrics. With over 3 million patients on record, we ensure research sites are connected to a thoroughly educated and engaged pool of participants; so, it is no wonder why we have such high patient confidence! Now, we would say that other models are available - but this would be a lie. In fact, unlike that offered by other patient recruitment companies, our easy-to-use dashboard is the first-of-its-kind for the market; giving researchers a unique insight into their patients’ wants and needs via industry-leading technology. The future of clinical recruitment starts here.


  • Interested in finding out more? Get in touch with us here, and check out our archives for all our top tips and tricks on running a successful clinical trial in today's constantly changing industry.

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