Massachusetts General Hospital has the largest hospital-based medical research program in the country. The Department of Psychiatry is an important part of that research program.
We maintain a wide-ranging research portfolio that includes research on virtually every major psychiatric disorder. The goal of our research program is to develop a better understanding of mental health so we can create more effective treatments. Many of our treatment programs combine clinical work and research into a single program. This model of cross-talk between clinical care and science has consistently led to research advances at Mass General.
It can sometimes be difficult to get an appointment in our clinical treatment programs. However, because of our unique, integrated model of treatment and research, enrolling in a research program can often be a good alternative for accessing care.
What Psychiatric Research Entails
Psychiatric research evaluates how effective a new treatment is compared to a standard therapy or a placebo (inactive) pill. Your participation in a study helps us understand more about mental health disorders and their treatments. Participation can also benefit you directly, because you will often receive the most current treatments as they are developed.
Participating in a study is typically very safe. Doctors follow your symptoms closely during the course of a study to ensure your safety. If a doctor is concerned about your safety, he or she may take you out of the study and help you find an appropriate alternative for care.
Many patients and families have questions about enrolling in research studies and clinical trials. Here are answers to some of the most frequent concerns.
FAQs About Psychiatry Research
Q: What is a research study?
A: In general, the purpose of a research study is to find an answer to a problem. These types of problems include how to pick the best treatment for a patient with an illness or how to better prevent someone from experiencing an illness.
A clinical trial is a specific type of research study. The purpose of a clinical trial is to decide whether or not a treatment should be approved for the general population. A clinical trial investigates the safety and effects of a wide range of medical treatments, from medication to surgical equipment and techniques.
Q: Why participate in research studies?
A: Research evaluates how effective a new treatment of depression is compared to a standard therapy or a placebo (inactive) pill. Your participation can clearly help us understand more about depression and its treatments, participation in a research study can actually benefit the study participant directly.
Q: Is it safe to participate in research studies?
A: Yes. To ensure your safety, doctors will follow your symptoms very closely during the course of the study. You will meet with a study doctor regularly (typically about once a week or once every other week). The doctor will ask you questions and may perform lab work (for example, blood draws or other physical examinations) to monitor your mental and general health. If the doctor is concerned about your safety, he or she may take you out of the study and help you find appropriate and care.
Q: How often will I see a doctor?
A: The frequency of your visits will depend on the study you are participating in.
Q: How soon can I come in for an appointment?
A: If you are eligible for an initial appointment after talking with a member of our research staff on the phone, we can often schedule your first appointment within one or two weeks.
Q: Will you share information about me with anyone?
A: Your participation is confidential. We will not share information about you or your participation in a study with anyone (including insurance companies), unless you give us permission to do so, or if there is a medical emergency.
Q: Can I participate in a study while I am on a waitlist to see a private psychiatrist?
A: Yes, you can participate in a study while you are on a waitlist to see a private psychiatrist.
Q: What happens if I start the study and later decide that I don’t want to participate any more?
A: Your participation is voluntary. You may choose to withdraw from a study at any time, for any reason.
Q: What is placebo? Why can't I find out if I was taking placebo?
A: Placebo is an inactive substance that is sometimes called a “sugar pill”. We compare the effects of placebo to the active medication and to make sure the results are not from visiting a doctor regularly, but are indeed effects of the active medication.
Research suggests that if you or your doctor were to know you were taking placebo, its potential benefits may change. Knowing what you are changing can alter your perception of whether or not you are getting better. For this reason, we don't reveal who was taking placebo until the very end of the study (sometimes up to six years).
Q: What happens when I finish the research study?
A: We generally offer three months of free follow-up clinical care for anyone who has stopped or completed a study at our clinic. This means you can see a clinician about once a month after the study. The clinician will help you formulate a plan for continuing your psychiatric care after your leave our clinic.
Q: Can my research doctor prescribe me other (non-psychiatric) medications?
Because our doctors only know you in a research setting and do not have access to your entire medical record, they will usually not prescribe you medications outside the confines of the study. However, at the conclusion of the study a three-month free follow-up period is offered to patients where, based on your symptoms, their clinical opinion and your treatment preferences, they may prescribe medications to alleviate depression, anxiety, or sleep troubles.