Largest ever study of depression and anxiety to transform mental health care for future generations

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Researchers at King’s College London are launching the largest ever single study of depression and anxiety. By recruiting at least 40,000 people in England who have experienced either depression or anxiety at some point in their life, the Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression (GLAD) study will make important strides towards better understanding of these disorders and improving the lives of future patients. GLAD will provide a ‘bank’ of potential participants for future studies on the genetic aspects of these two conditions and reduce the time-consuming process of recruiting patients for research.

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions in the UK; one in three people will experience symptoms during their lifetime. Access to psychological therapies and drug treatments such as anti-depressants is increasing, but only half of people respond well to existing treatment options. For the thousands who remain unwell, these conditions may worsen over time and can lead to relationship and employment problems, a poor quality of life and even suicide. As such, researchers urgently need more people to take part in mental health research studies.

Research has shown 30–40% of the risk for both depression and anxiety is genetic and 60–70% due to environmental factors. Only by having a large, diverse group of people available for future studies will researchers be able to determine how genetic and environmental triggers interact to cause anxiety and depression and how to develop more effective treatments.

Geneticist and study lead, Gerome Breen, King’s College London comments: “It’s a really exciting time to become involved in mental health research, particularly genetic research which has made incredible strides in recent years—we have so far identified 66 genetic links for depression and anxiety. By recruiting 40,000 volunteers willing to be re-contacted for research, the GLAD Study will take us further than ever before. It will allow researchers to solve the big unanswered questions, address how genes and environment act together and help develop new treatment options.”

Sophie Dix, director of research at the charity MQ, which advocates for more research into mental health conditions, is supporting the GLAD Study. She comments: “Only through further research into the root causes of anxiety and depression can we hope to achieve the same breakthroughs that have been seen with other physical conditions. Our dream is a world where people can achieve full control of their mental health conditions, and where treatments are personalised to work for them. We encourage anyone living with depression or anxiety who shares this vision to enrol.”

The GLAD Study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) as a collaboration between the NIHR BioResource and King’s College London, has been designed to be particularly accessible, with a view to motivating more people to take part in mental health research.

Research psychologist and study lead Professor Thalia Eley, King’s College London, comments: “The GLAD Study is straightforward. We’re asking those who have experienced clinical anxiety or depression to complete a short survey and provide a DNA sample (from saliva). We want to hear from all different backgrounds, cultures, ethnic groups and genders, and we are especially keen to hear from young adults. By including people from all parts of the population what we learn will be relevant for everyone. This is a unique opportunity to participate in pioneering medical science—we hope the public back the study and we can reach our target of 40,000 people.”

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