Research on a new road to recovery from depression

Headshot of Sarah Rae in a puffa jacket Research for a new road to recovery from depression

Expert by experience Sarah Rae shares her experience of depression treatments and why an exciting line of research is testing an alternative approach, which could lead to more effective treatments and new roads to recovery.

My first episode of clinical depression almost 40 years ago was undoubtably triggered by a viral infection.
It was treated with a succession of antidepressants, but these medications mostly came with unacceptable side effects - including epileptic fits, and they also failed to lift my mood. At that time, little was known about the impact that viruses can have on mental health, but now the effects of long Covid-19 are being studied extensively. This has left me wondering if I would have responded better to an anti-inflammatory drug, such as the one that is now being trialled in the ATP study.

We know that some people with depression do not respond to the antidepressants currently available and yet there have been no breakthroughs or major advances in the development of psychiatric drugs for decades. However, this exciting new line of research could possibly pave the way for more effective treatments.

Clinical trials offer an opportunity for anyone who is not benefiting from their medication and standard treatments to take part in ground-breaking research. If this had been offered to me when I was unwell, I would have been eager to participate, especially as my experience of taking part in research has always been positive.

I have been involved in some interesting psychology studies for people with a diagnosis of depression. The researchers were keen to understand my condition and it was helpful having conversations about wellbeing in a different context, with more time to examine things in detail. I also benefited from picking up tips and learning new coping strategies, such as how to avoid focusing on negative thoughts.

When taking part in trials, you are in control and there is no obligation to continue – you can leave the research process at any point. In addition, there are often therapeutic benefits for people who take part in these studies, through the contact they have with the researchers and improved understanding of a condition and how to manage it.

I became involved in the ATP research study because I want to help find psychiatric medications that are tailored to peoples’ needs and make prescribing less hit and miss. As a member of the trial steering committee, I have been working to ensure that the study is designed to be acceptable to participants and that they are provided with the right information to give informed consent.

Experts by experience bring a unique perspective and understand what matters to people with mental health challenges. Wherever possible, they should be involved in the development of research to ensure it is relevant to patients, led by their needs and reflecting their priorities.

Research participants from around the UK with a wide range of experiences are always needed for clinical trials. It is only by involving large numbers of different individuals that we can find out which medications work for whom and design treatments that are more personalised.

I would urge anyone eligible to consider taking part in mental health research. Your contribution could potentially make a huge difference to people affected by these conditions and improve their lives, increasing the chance of finding successful treatments in future.


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