Why Should I Participate in a Clinical Trial?

Patients thinking about participating in a study of a new treatment should feel hopeful about having a good chance of experiencing improvement. Carrying out a study of a new medication is time consuming and expensive. Investigators only do this if they believe that the effort will bring better patient care. Of course, some studies involve a 25% or 50% chance of receiving placebo (inactive substance). But these studies usually last only two or three months, a short time compared to the years that patients have already spent in distressing and often incapacitating illness.

Potential study participants can be discouraged by the document known as the "Informed Consent," often more than 10 pages in length. The Consent spells out the study's goals, procedures and risks, why the patient is being considered for participation, and the fact that benefit is not guaranteed. Because all credible risks must be disclosed, even those that might occur only once among many thousands of patients, the abnormally sensitive "danger circuits" in some patients' brains may cause them not to participate. These danger circuits do not recognize that the probability and magnitude of benefit in the study are large, whereas the probability of adverse events is small - otherwise the study would not be done.

As Herbert Ward, M.D., has said, "Patients have to be our partners in discovering new and better treatments." If those suffering from psychiatric disorders want better treatments for themselves and other sufferers, they must be willing to help us make it happen.