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Mental Health Information Centre - Southern Africa

Our research

The MHIC works closely with the Medical Research Council’s (MRC’s) unit on anxiety and stress disorders. The unit is constantly looking for suitable participants for their on-going research projects. Read more about the research happenings here, and do not hesitate to contact them should you want to take part.

Post Traumatic Stress in early and later life: genetic imaging study

Have you experienced psychological trauma in your life recently, as a child or teenager? If your response is yes and you are over 21, you are invited to participate in a brain scan and genetics research study. It investigates how early life trauma may contribute to later life post-traumatic stress.


Please contact Melanie Bishop (021-9389780 or mbishop@sun.ac.za), or David Rosenstein (rosensteind@gmail.com) if you would like to participate. Also, visit posttraumaticstress.co.za for more information.

Brain imaging in infants

There is growing evidence from both basic and clinical studies that maternal stressors (e.g. exposure to interpersonal violence) are associated with adverse early life behavioral outcomes in off-spring.
Although various neurotransmitter systems (e.g. glutamate system) have been implicated, the underlying mechanisms accounting for these associations remain poorly understood.
Advances in brain imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance spectroscopy, allow for assessment of the integrity of neuronal function, as well as brain glutamate/glutamine concentrations, in early life.
This study aims to assess the effects of maternal stressors on infant neuronal integrity and glutamatergic function, as assessed by magnetic resonance spectroscopy.
For more information contact Dr Annerine Roos 021 9389756 or aroos@sun.ac.za.

Are you just very shy or do you suffer from social anxiety disorder?

Shyness should not be confused with social anxiety disorder (SAD) – previously known as social phobia.

SAD is an extremely common psychiatric condition that affects approximately 13% of the general population. SAD is one of the anxiety disorders and is characterized by severe anxiety when confronted with social situations, or even just thoughts about such situations. This anxiety results in severe distress and impairment in all aspects of the individual’s daily functioning, including social, work or school functioning.

More specifically, in patients with SAD, there is an intense and persistent fear of being in the company of strangers, there is the fear that other people will judge them negatively in a social situation, or there is the fear that they will act in a way that will embarrass or humiliate them.  The physiological manifestations that accompany social anxiety may include: heart palpitations, a turning stomach, severe blushing, excessive sweating, dry mouth, trembling hands and difficulty swallowing.

While it is normal for people to experience anxiety about certain social or performance situations such as job interviews or public speeches, the person with SAD experiences persistent severe anxiety that is excessive in relation to the actual situation.  These symptoms often lead to acute avoidance of these “social” situations.  Until very recently, the relative “normality” or high incidence of shyness or social anxiety has led to non-diagnosis of SAD.

Interestingly, SAD has so far received relatively little attention in research circles.  The situation is however changing on the local front.  Research on the causality of SAD, including the role of certain brain areas and hereditary factors is currently being conducted at the MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders (StellenboschUniversity) in collaboration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Cape Town.  Participation entails a cost-free, once-off interview with a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.  Participation in other aspects of the study will be discussed in detail during this interview.  Participants do not have to be diagnosed already (the interview will confirm a diagnosis, if present).  All information will be treated as confidential.

If you are between 18 and 40 years old, and know or suspect that you suffer from SAD and would like to know more about it and/or want to be part of our SAD research project, please call 021-938 9179, or e-mail: cl2@sun.ac.za.  Referral for treatment can be discussed with you if you are interested.

Do you pick at your skin?

Do you pick at your skin? Has it left you with unsightly scars that impacts on your daily life?

The MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders at Stellenbosch University is currently looking for participants with problematic skin-picking to take part in a research study.

Participation will involve a once off interview with a clinical psychologist. The interview will include questions on your emotional health, skin-picking, and childhood experiences and should not last longer than 3 hours.

The study will take place at Tygerberg medical campus.

For more information, please contact:

Prof Christine Lochner 021 938 9179/ cl2@sun.ac.za


Elsie Breet 021 938 9654/ elsie@sun.ac.za

Do you suffer from Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

The search is on for volunteers to participate in a brain-imaging study on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Participate in this important study and receive a picture of your brain to take home with you.

The Cross-University Brain-Behaviour Initiative (CUBBI) of the University of Cape Town & MRC Unit on Anxiety & Stress Disorders, University of Stellenbosch, aims to investigate the effects of a chemical agent (escitalopram) on a person’s thinking patterns and emotional responses, as determined by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

It also aims to find out more about the role of specific polymorphisms in certain candidate genes that contribute to the development of OCD, OCD related/spectrum disorders (i.e. trichotillomania, or TTM) or other anxiety disorders (i.e. panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder), via analysis of candidate genes of patients from South Africa.

Four “types” of volunteers are needed for participation:

1) right handed persons (aged between 18 and 65 years) diagnosed with OCD;

2) right handed persons (aged between 18 and 65 years) diagnosed with TTM;

3) healthy right handed first-degree relatives (aged between 18 and 65 years) of persons diagnosed with OCD; and

4) healthy right handed persons (aged between 18 and 65 years) without any psychiatric disorder.

Participation involves attendance of 2 sessions, with the first session comprising of an interview, filling out of questionnaires and taking a blood sample for genetic analysis.

Information remains confidential

During the subsequent session a brain scan is done. In addition, participants complete a number of neuropsychological tasks in the form of computerized games.

Afterwards, the participant also completes a few simple behavioural (also computerized) tasks.  All procedures are carefully explained by the investigators.

Participant information will be kept confidential.

If you think you are up to the challenge, and want to contribute to this study, please contact:

Prof Christine Lochner (Tel: 021 – 938 9179, e-mail: cl2@sun.ac.za) or Elsie Breet (Tel: 021 – 938 9654, e-mail: elsie@sun.ac.za) for more information.

Mental Health Topics

In partnership with:

University of Stellenbosch
South African Medical Research Council
University of Cape Town