Mental health research(review & practical example)

Mental health research
JuanitaHFNE

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.

In the following entry you will find an initial discussion of mental health research, some of its characteristics and finally you will find a practical example. 

Mental health research(review & practical example)

Mental health research

Mental health research is an activity of knowledge inquiry that seeks, within the context of scientific research, to obtain and build new knowledge from which practices in mental health are more relevant (applied research) and effective, as well as to obtain a better understanding of the different topics that are of interest to the different disciplines working in mental health (basic research). 

From mental health research, different results can be sought, which may vary depending on the objectives and the specific problem to be solved. 

Mental health research: what do we expect?

Below are some of the scopes that could be sought with mental health research, so the reader will have an idea of the types of activities that should be carried out in order to answer the questions that are posed.

  • Mental health research can seek to better understand what causes different mental illnesses. This can be done from a basic dimension, to advance knowledge, on the one hand, and could also be done from an applied perspective, in which it would seek to influence these causes when they are present so that the appearance or development of a certain mental illness can be avoided. 
Mental health research(review & practical example)
  • In addition to the above, mental health research may seek to improve the possible links between biological factors or mechanisms, with other social or environmental lines of action, in the context of mental health and mental illness. For example, research may focus on finding some biological markers that can be associated with the appearance of psychotic symptoms under certain externally generated stress conditions. 
  • On the other hand, and being closer to applied research, mental health research could promote an increase in knowledge related to new forms of intervention in specific problems, as well as ways to execute prevention programs that help to mitigate some disorder. 
  • Following the previous line, another type of research could aim to improve the knowledge that is currently available to make better diagnoses and thus improve the development of treatments that are used to help improve patients’ mental health. 
  • Mental health research also involves applying scientific methodology to accelerate the acquisition of knowledge regarding disorders and the mechanisms that characterize them, as well as the use of big data and computer methods, so that we can take advantage of the information we have and create predictive models or models of greater understanding of the problems that are the object of interest in mental health. 
  • On the other hand, and given the high complexity that usually characterizes mental disorders or mental health problems (insofar as they usually involve multiple factors, without which it is not possible to have a good understanding of the problems within the panorama), another path in mental health research is the search for a greater understanding of the importance of comorbidity between different disorders. On the other hand, mental health research also involves improving knowledge of the interactions that may exist between physical and mental health. 

As we can see, the results sought when implementing mental health research programs are varied, since the topics of potential interest are very diverse and numerous. 

Mental health research: how science works 

Mental health research, as well as research in all other areas of knowledge, is of great importance since it is the way science and scientific knowledge advances. Science is the most powerful system that we humans have so far to obtain and systematize knowledge that has the potential to be used for different purposes. 

Without research, science has no meaning and no floor to stand on. The different approaches, perspectives, and information that are collected across the planet represent unique opportunities to make new discoveries and unveil the nature of life and the phenomena that surround us.

Therefore, in this article, we present an example of the initiation of research on child sexual abuse. It presents the formulation of the problem, a research question, and some findings from the reviewed background. As will be seen, science and research respond to a constant search for answering questions and understanding phenomena. 

A practical example of mental health research: child sexual abuse 

The question to be investigated on sexual abuse arose mainly from the desire to acquire knowledge about a very visible social problem. We searched in different sources (Dialnet, EBSCO, Sciencedirect) for information related to the subject in question, finding a considerable volume of research that raises the problem from different points of view as risk factors, consequences, the propensity to sexual abuse and definition of the term.

In view of the diversity of research points, it was decided to approach the topic from the consequences, since it was seen that it is one of the most discussed topics, differentiating between short, medium and long term consequences. 

Mental health research(review & practical example)

As for the initial consequences, it is said that they are those effects that are usually located between the two years following the abuse, which therefore are usually found in childhood and adolescence. Sexual abuse may have immediate consequences or the victim may not manifest any apparent problem and these may appear in adulthood. 

These are less frequent than the initial ones, however, child sexual abuse constitutes an important risk factor for the development of a wide range of psychopathological disorders in adulthood. The effects can occur until adulthood or develop in certain developmental periods, or they can also diminish or disappear.

When referring to long-term symptoms, it is not possible to speak of a single specific syndrome or a set of differentiated symptoms associated with this experience, nor can the existence of a deterministic relationship between the experience of child sexual abuse and the presence of psychological problems in adulthood be confirmed, as there are multiple variables that seem to influence this relationship. 

Therefore, the long-term effects have been considered speculative due to the difficulty of their study and the interaction with other types of factors related to the passage of time.

Although no specific problems are mentioned, some authors note that the general mental health of abuse victims is worse, with more psychiatric symptoms and disorders. Other studies of child abuse victims, including sexual abuse, confirm that these victims are four times more likely to develop personality disorders than the general population.

Some studies have concluded that, unlike other types of child abuse, sexual abuse does not correlate with any specific personality disorder, although to some extent it does with all of them.

Different studies have shown how the history of traumatic events in childhood, including the experience of sexual abuse, appears to increase the risk of antisocial disorder, borderline and antisocial personality disorder, borderline and dependence personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or psychopathological personality traits such as paranoid, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, or dependent, among others.

Bearing in mind the multiple consequences that derive from sexual abuse, we have tried to go deeper into them in order to understand the particularity of the disorders and the way in which they manifest themselves and affect the psychological development of the individual.

Mental health research(review & practical example)

Research question

What are the consequences of child sexual abuse and how does it affect the individual’s psychological development?

How does child sexual abuse affect an individual’s psychological development?

Objectives

  • To clarify the knowledge about sexual abuse in those who suffer it and the short, medium and long term consequences.
  • To analyze the relationship between sexual abuse and psychopathological disorders.
  • To dimension the magnitude of the problem and the consequences that it can bring to the subject and society.

Some findings of previous research 

By means of research methods, the effects of child sexual abuse were analyzed and studied, which are mainly Attributions of the blame for the abuse, avoidance coping and post-traumatic stress disorder which is an indirect derivative of the consequences of the first two. 

In addition, it seeks to prevent these consequences through early intervention in order to change the perspective on the attributions that are usually made about the abuse and how to deal with it, all under the premise that the treatment or early intervention of sexual abuse victims can prevent the consequences that this leaves.

It is important to recognize the early psychological consequences of first-time sexual abuse and to classify the symptoms into different categories such as emotional, cognitive, relational, functional, and behavioral problems. This shows the multiple diversity of complexes and disorders caused by sexual abuse. All this in order to give a more appropriate diagnosis when recognizing someone who suffers sexual abuse.

The variables that intervene as risk factors for sexual abuse are diverse, which is why several possibly determining characteristics are identified, being the most recurrent in the studies (16) reviewed: chaotic family structure, presence of violence or marital conflict, parenting behaviors inclined towards alcohol or drug abuse and to a lesser extent history of sexual abuse in mothers of abused children. 

The number of investigations related to risk factors and precipitating factors of sexual abuse is lower compared to the volume of research focusing on long-term consequences.

Conclusion 

Mental health research is a broad topic of interest that addresses different problems and generally aims to advance knowledge in a specific area where there is a gap in terms of research. In general terms, it seeks to improve the knowledge available for the diagnosis, understanding, intervention, and treatment of mental illness and other mental health problems. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about mental health research 

Why is research important in mental health?

Mental health research is important because it helps to save lives, improve the quality of life of hundreds of people, relieve the discomfort produced by a mental disorder, among other benefits experienced on a large scale as a result of good mental health.

Are there mental health institutions?

Yes, and among them are psychiatric hospitals, mental health units, mental asylums or nursing homes, among others.

Which agency has the largest funding for mental health research?

The institution that has the largest funding capacity for mental health research is the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

What does a mental health researcher do?

A mental health researcher can fulfill different roles, such as being in clinical practice and knowing first-hand the effects of treatment. On the other hand, he or she can work on understanding mental disorders, as well as developing theories and building models of intervention. 

What are the factors affecting mental health?

There are several factors that can affect mental health, including self-esteem, self-confidence, consistency in family relationships, and physical health, among others. 

 

Recommended resources

  1. Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Science and Its Conceptual Foundations series)
  2. Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
  3. Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology (SAGE Foundations of Psychology series)

References

  1. Choosing Methods in Mental Health Research: Mental Health Research from Theory to Practice
  2. A Handbook for the Study of Mental Health
  3. Ethics in Mental Health Research: Principles, Guidance, and Cases

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