Published: 24 September 2019
A year ago, we set ourselves an ambitious target to recruit 40,000 volunteers in the UK who have experienced either depression or anxiety at some point in their life, to take part in the Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression (GLAD) Study. Once complete, it will be one of the largest studies of its kind, and a vital resource for researchers in years to come.
The aim of the GLAD Study is to help us answer the question of how genes and environment act together to bring about anxiety and depression, and to help develop new treatment options. Researchers will be able to re contact participants to take part in further studies, such as clinical trials aimed at developing better therapies and interventions for anxiety and depression.
Mental health research is vitally important. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives and current treatments do not work for everyone.
The GLAD Study is groundbreaking for a number of reasons. First of all is the way we have engaged the public and recruited participants through social media, online advertising, working with charities and other partners, and through national media coverage. Social media in particular has been a vital tool for getting our message out and driving recruitment, especially with younger audiences.
Second is the simplicity of our ask. Taking part in GLAD is extremely straightforward and can be done at home in your own time. Participants simply complete an online questionnaire and submit a saliva sample in the post. They can also choose to give consent for researchers to securely access relevant parts of their NHS health records, and to be re contacted for research. The data is held securely in line with new data regulations and is only accessed by a limited number of approved researchers.
All GLAD samples will be genotyped as part of the NIHR BioResource, which aims to be the largest contactable resource of patients in the world, and can provide control data for researchers using the GLAD database.
In the first 24 hours after launch, more than 8,000 people had registered on the website, and by the end of week one, that figure had grown to almost 15,000. Interest in the project grew and grew, and by the end of the first month, over 33,000 people had signed up to the study.
I am so proud of what we have achieved in the past year: nearly 75,000 people have now signed up on the website, with 60% indicating they are willing to join the study after reading the information sheet. Almost 29,000 participants have completed the next stage (the survey) and 20,000 have completed the final stage, sending their saliva samples back.
We have already seen some really interesting insights from the data, with GLAD participants on average having a young age of onset (before 16) for depression and anxiety disorders. They also tend to have high rates of traumatic experiences, which is one of the most well-known predictors of mental illness.
Our mission to reach more and more people continues, and in February, GLAD started recruiting in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We hope that by 2022, more than 40,000 people will have completed the survey and given us a saliva sample.
While recruitment is going well, there is still work to be done, especially around the diversity of people taking part. Seventy per cent of our participants are white, female and well-educated and we would like the database to be more representative of the general population. We’re currently looking at what we can do to recruit more men, and more people of different ethnicities.
We hope, of course, to achieve our ambitious goals, but GLAD already has enough participants and data to be of very significant use to researchers, and to provide a pool of potential participants for future studies on the genetic aspects of anxiety and depression. We are already starting to see outputs from the study, for example with the submission of the first scientific paper describing the methodology, the success of the social media campaign and analysis of the demographic data of volunteers so far. We predict there will be many more, and we expect the GLAD Study to be ongoing for many years to come. Only by doing studies on such a large scale can we make a meaningful difference to the mental health of generations to come.
I personally want to thank everyone who has taken part in the GLAD Study to date. I’d also like to thank my colleagues at King’s College London, my GLAD co-PI Professor Thalia Eley, the NIHR Mental Health BioResource, the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and our other partner organisations for their unwavering commitment and enthusiasm for the study over the last year.
Find out how to take part in the GLAD Study
Professor Gerome Breen - Professor of Neuropsychiatric & Translational Genetics - King's College London