Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience


The Brain and Escitalopram in Anxiety and Depression Study (BEADS)

Anxiety-related mental health conditions

Anxiety in and of itself is a normal experience that humans feel when under threat, which can arise through our thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. However anxiety can also become a health concern when it is excessive and disrupts day-to-day life, which is unfortunately the case for a large number of people, affecting around 1 in 6 people in the UK every week. These anxiety-related mental health conditions are debilitating, and can take many forms including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobias.

Treatments for anxiety like antidepressants or psychological therapy are available, yet these are ineffective for around half of those who receive treatment, leaving millions of anxious individuals untreated. The only way by which this situation can be improved is through scientific research.

What we are doing

We, the UCL Neuroscience and Mental Health Group, are running a research study on how antidepressants work in the treatment of anxiety, so that we can inform future treatment strategies. Specifically, we are seeking two groups of people to help us in our research: individuals experiencing frequent and potentially disruptive anxiety, and also individuals with no history of anxiety or other mental health conditions.

What will the study involve?

We invite suitable participants to come in for an initial interview session to determine your eligibility - this is decided on the basis of past mood and experiences, and also on health-related contraindications that might make some unsuitable to take the antidepressant or to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This session normally takes around 1.5 to 2 hours.

If you are eligible after this interview, we will invite you to come in for testing session 1 which will involve some computerised cognitive/psychological tasks and questionnaires. Some of the tasks will involve MRI and some will involve some mild and harmless electrical shocks - which are comparable to a rubber band being snapped against the skin. The purpose of these shocks is to elicit a very temporary state of unpleasantness so we can assess cognition in this state. The total duration of the session will be around 2.5 hours.

After this testing session, you will be given a 2-3 week course of the antidepressant, escitalopram, OR placebo pills to take home with you and to take daily. There will be clinical cover for you throughout, in the case of any adverse effects, although the majority of our participants to date have not reported any serious side effects. Out of 59 participants to date, 2 have discontinued the medication due to side effects. Following this medication course, you will return for testing session 2 which will be identical to the previous testing session. This will be the final step of participation.

This procedure has received ethical approval from the UCL Research Ethics Committee (reference number: 6198_002).

What are the benefits of taking part?

Participants will aid in much-needed research on treatments for anxiety and how we can improve them. Participants will also be reimbursed for their time spent on-site at £50 for full participation in the study.

Where can I get more information?

More detailed information can be found on our information sheet We would also ask for your consent before your participation in our study, for which a sample form can be found here.

You can also get in touch regarding any questions at ICN.SSRIstudy@ucl.ac.uk.

How can I get involved?

If you're interested in participating, please fill in this online screening: https://redcap.idhs.ucl.ac.uk/surveys/?s=K9TDC4CP73

Will my data be protected?

Our study is conducted in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation. More information about your rights as a participant can be found here: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/data-protection-reform/overview-of-the-gdpr/individuals-rights/.

Follow us on social media!

Take a minute to look at our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/UCL.BEADS/