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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

Clinical Trials – Information for Participants


Clinical research is critical to understanding and treating mental illnesses. At the heart of clinical research are clinical trials, research studies performed with people that aim to evaluate a medical, surgical, or behavioral intervention.

Clinical trials are the primary way researchers determine if a new treatment – like a new drug, medical procedure, or medical device (such as a brain stimulation device) – is safe and effective in people. Often a clinical trial is used to learn if a new treatment is more effective or has less harmful or bothersome side effects than the standard treatment. Other clinical trials test ways to find a disease early, sometimes even before there are symptoms, and others test ways to prevent a health problem.

Researchers usually enroll people with a specific health condition, but some also accept people without health problems – referred to as healthy volunteers – to provide a comparison group for the new treatment being tested.

What is Clinical Research?

What are the different types of clinical research?

Why People Participate in Clinical Research

People participate in clinical trials for a variety of reasons. Healthy volunteers may participate to help others and to contribute to moving science forward. Participants with a medical condition may also participate to help others, as well as to try out novel experimental interventions and have additional care and attention from clinical trial staff.

Clinical trials offer hope for many people and an opportunity to help researchers find better treatments for others.

What People Experience During a Clinical Trial

During a clinical trial, you may see doctors, nurses, social workers, or other health care providers who will monitor your health closely. You may have more tests and medical exams than you would if you were not taking part in a clinical trial. The study team may also ask you to do other tasks, such as keeping a log about your health or filling out forms about how you feel.

You may need to travel or stay in a hospital to take part in clinical trials. For example, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, conduct clinical trials. It is the largest research hospital in the world. Many other clinical trials take place in medical centers and doctors’ offices around the country. Participating in clinical trials is completely voluntary. If you decide to participate in a trial and later decide that the trial not is right for you, you can withdraw at any time. Whether you participate or not will not affect your regular medical care.

What is informed consent?

How to Find a Study at NIMH

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the NIH, supports research studies through its Division of Intramural Research Programs on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. Eligible participants from across the U.S. can enroll in studies. You can learn more about studies conducted at NIMH using the following links:

To receive periodic email updates on NIMH mental health research news, resources, educational events, and clinical research studies conducted at the NIH Clinical Center, subscribe and select Intramural Updates. You can also learn about all studies taking place at the NIH Clinical Center.

Discover NIMH: Drug Discovery and Development

How to Find a Study Near You

NIMH also funds many studies that are currently recruiting participants around the country on different mental disorders, including:

Other Ways to Find a Clinical Trial Near You:

  • Talk to your health care provider about local studies that may be right for you. You can learn about studies in the newspaper, on TV, or online.
  • Search, a registry maintained by the National Library of Medicine at NIH of federally and privately-funded clinical trials on various diseases and conditions.
  • Join a national registry of research volunteers, such as ResearchMatch, an NIH-funded initiative to connect people trying to find research studies and researchers seeking people to participate in their studies. It is a free, secure registry designed to make it easier for the public to volunteer in a study.
  • Join the NIH All of Us Research Program, an effort to advance individualized health care by enrolling one million or more participants to contribute their health data over many years. The program aims to reflect the diversity of the U.S. and to include participants from groups that have been underrepresented in health research.

What to Expect After Finding a Clinical Trial

Once you find a study that you might want to join, contact the study coordinator. You can usually find this contact information in the description of the study. Each clinical trial has criteria describing who can join. The first step is a screening conducted by phone or online to see if you qualify to participate. This step also gives you a chance to ask questions about the study. Before you decide whether to participate in a study, you will be given the details of the study during an informed consent process, including risks and benefits.

Let your health care provider know that you are thinking about joining a clinical trial. They may want to talk to the research team to ensure the study is safe for you and coordinate your care while you are in the study.

What are the risks and benefits of participating in clinical research?

Learn More

Free Fact Sheets

  • Clinical Research Trials and You: Questions and Answers: This NIMH brochure discusses what a clinical trial is, who participates in clinical trials including patients and healthy volunteers, why people participate in clinical trials, and guidelines for clinical trials. Also available en español.
  • Clinical Trials and Older Adults: This National Institute on Aging (NIA) booklet describes how to find out how older adults can volunteer for research studies.
  • Learn About Research Participation: This U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Human Research Protection brochure provides general information about research and research participation. The information includes how research works, the importance of the partnership between the participants and researchers, what questions someone interested in volunteering for a study should ask, and where to get trusted information about research participation.

Federal Resources


Information for Researchers

Last Reviewed: May 2021