Mental illnesses are complex. A full understanding requires knowledge of the biological, psychological and social factors that are involved in causing and triggering illness. This means that no single method of research can deliver all the answers. For this reason we use a variety of powerful research approaches.
We use interview and questionnaire based assessments to obtain information about social and psychological factors that may influence an individual’s risk of developing illness.
For example, identifying personality traits or specific life events (such as childbirth) that increase risk of illness will enable health professionals to screen for such risk factors.
We also use assessments of cognition and thinking, such as memory or attention tests, to investigate how these factors may be related to illness.
We often combine our psychological approaches with our biological and neuroimaging research to enable us to investigate how these areas overlap and interact.
We use laboratory studies to understand more about the functions of molecules, nerve cells and brain systems and how they may be altered in mental illness.
For example, identifying genes that influence risk of illness helps us to understand the important proteins and biological systems involved in illness.
This is an important step on the path towards developing better methods of diagnosis and better treatments.
Neuroimaging (brain imaging) refers to powerful research methods that provide fascinating insight into the structure and function of the human brain. Examples include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography.
By combining techniques we can observe the brain ‘in action’ in real time, for example while it processes speech or emotional pictures.
With these methods we can better understand symptoms reported by patients with mental disorders, such as hallucinations.
We can also track the brain changes in circuits brought about by therapy – this is not confined to medication because psychotherapy, too, alters the brain.
For more information about neuroimaging, and opportunities to take part in neuroimaging research, click on Other Research.