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Mental Health Information Centre - Southern Africa

Research Studies

The extramural Research Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders was established by the MRC in 1997. The Unit has worked towards obtaining status as a cross-University Centre, with key unit researchers now located at the University of Stellenbosch, as well as the University of Cape Town (UCT), and at Northwest University. Prof Dan J. Stein, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at UCT, is director of the Unit. Priority has been given to establishing a unit focusing on anxiety disorders, including PTSD, fostering a multi-disciplinary biopsychosocial approach to the anxiety disorders, promoting increased awareness of the anxiety disorders in the community, and finally, ensuring capacity building of clinical and research skills in students and staff. In 2017 the name of the unit was changed to the SU/UCT MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Students, post-doctoral fellows and any others should contact the Unit if interested in our work: tel nr: 021 938 9229; Prof Dan J. Stein: Dan.Stein@uct.ac.za; Prof Christine Lochner: cl2@sun.ac.za.

Project 1

A project on gambling disorder and methamphetamine (“tik”) use disorder (MUD)

 Do you suffer from gambling disorder (also known as compulsive or pathological gambling) or do you use methamphetamine (“tik”) regularly? You can take part in an important new study on these conditions that is conducted by the MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders at the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town.

The study covers many aspects of these conditions – symptoms, illness severity and impact on the quality of life, while also looking at genetics and the structure of certain brain regions that are implicated.

Gambling disorder (GD) is characterized by the inability to resist gambling despite severe disruption to work, social and family life. Individuals with GD may continually chase their losses, hide their behaviour, tell lies about where they go, how much they spend or owe, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to continue gambling. There is no single known cause of GD, but there is evidence suggesting involvement of both genetic and environmental factors.

“Tik” is highly addictive and one of the most common drugs used in the Western Cape. Chronic tik abusers show symptoms that can include violent behaviour, anxiety, confusion and sleep disturbances. They can also display a number of psychotic features, including paranoia, “hearing voices” (auditory hallucinations), mood disturbances and disturbed thinking (i.e. “delusions”, e.g. the sensation of insects creeping on the skin, called “formication”). MUD is also accompanied by functional and molecular changes in the brain.

 Eligibility criteria:

  • Should be between 18 and 65 years old
  • Right-handed
  • Diagnosed with or suspect they have one of the above conditions
  • Preferably not be on any chronic psychiatric medication at the time of participation

 What does participation involve?

3 sessions:

1) Undergoing a screening interview and diagnostic assessment, filling out of self-report questionnaires and taking a blood sample for genetic analysis.

2) If suitable for the study, participants undergo brain scanning during the next session.

3) Completion of a number of computerized and paper-and-pen brain tasks.

 Participation is cost-free.

This is not a treatment study. However, if you are interested in treatment, options will be discussed with you, and referral arranged.

 If you want more information or want to participate, please contact:

Prof Christine Lochner, tel: 021 – 938 9179, e-mail: cl2@sun.ac.za

Dr Samantha Brooks: e-mail: drsamanthabrooks@gmail.com

Project 2

‘n Projek oor obsessief-kompulsive steuring (OKS) en haar-uittreksteuring (trichotillomanie)

Navorsers van die MNR Eenheid vir Angs & Stressteurings, by die Universiteite van Stellenbosch en Kaapstad is steeds op soek na vrywilligers om deel te neem in ‘n kliniese, genetiese brein-beelding studie oor OKS en haar-uittreksteuring (trichotillomanie).

Drie “tipes” vrywilligers word benodig vir deelname:

  1. Regshandige persone (tussen die ouderdomme 18 en 65 jaar) gediagnoseer met OKS;
  2. Regshandige persone (tussen die ouderdomme 18 en 65 jaar) gediagnoseer met haar-uittreksteuring (trichotillomanie);
  3. Gesonde regshandige eerste-graad familie (tussen die ouderdomme 18 en 65 jaar) van persone gediagnoseer met OKS.

Deelname behels bywoning van 3 sessies. Die eerste sessie bestaan uit ‘n onderhoud, die invul van vraelyste en die neem van’ n bloedmonster vir genetiese analise.

Indien die persoon kwalifiseer, sal die daaropvolgende twee sessies ‘n breinskandering en ‘n aantal neurosielkundige take op ‘n rekenaar insluit.

Die studie sluit nie behandeling in nie maar verwysings kan op versoek gereël word.

Deelnemer-inligting sal vertroulik gehou word.

As u meer inligting wil hê, kontak:

Prof Christine Lochner 021-938 9179, e-pos: cl2@sun.ac.za vir meer inligting.

A project on obsessive-compulsive and hair-pulling disorder (trichotillomania)

This is an important clinical, genetics and brain-imaging study conducted by the MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders at Stellenbosch University in conjunction with researchers at Cambridge University in the UK. The study covers clinical aspects of these disorders – symptoms, illness severity, impact on the quality of your life, treatment history and childhood trauma history, while also looking at genetics and the structure of certain brain regions implicated in these conditions.

 What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? In DSM-IV (which is one of the major diagnostic tools used in practice), OCD was categorized as one of the anxiety disorders. In DSM-5 however, OCD now falls under a grouping of obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. OCD is a psychiatric disorder characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are persistent, “self-generated” (i.e. not delusional or psychotic) thoughts or mental images that are time-consuming, cause significant distress or functional impairment. Compulsions, on the other hand, are repetitive mental (e.g. counting, repeating words) or behavioural (e.g. hand-washing, checking) acts that the person feels obliged to perform in an attempt to reduce the anxiety or distress or to prevent some dreaded event. However, compulsions are not inherently enjoyable, are often extremely time-consuming and do not result in the completion of a useful task.

 What is hair-pulling disorder (HPD)? HPD is also now categorized as an obsessive-compulsive related disorder. It is characterized by recurrent pulling out of one’s hair resulting in hair loss, with repeated attempts to decrease or stop hair-pulling. The hair-pulling causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

 How prevalent are these disorders in SA? OCD, together with other mental disorders like HPD, account for the 2nd largest portion on our national burden of disease after HIV/AIDS. The causality or “working” of these conditions is not yet fully established. It can therefore be argued that it is necessary to do research on disorders such as OCD and HPD, so that the symptomatology and the neurobiological underpinnings can be better understood and that improved treatments can be found.

Who can volunteer?
– Volunteers who are right-handed and aged between 18 and 65 years
– Persons with OCD or HPD
– First-degree relatives of persons diagnosed with OCD
– Healthy controls

 How will it work? Participation involves attendance of 2 sessions, with the first session comprising of a screening interview, filling out of self-report questionnaires and taking a blood sample for genetic analysis. If suitable for brain imaging, participants are scanned during a subsequent session. Participants also complete a number of neuropsychological tasks in the form of computerized games. Participation is cost-free and participant information will be kept confidential.

Who to contact to take part? If you want more information or want to participate, please contact: Prof Christine Lochner 021 – 938 9179, e-mail: cl2@sun.ac.za for more information.

Project 3

International Study on Student Health and Wellness

Adolescents and young adults are at increased risk for mental health problems. This includes, but is not limited to, psychopathologies such as anxiety and mood disorders, substance use and sexual and gender identity disorders. Although in many educational institutions treatment and support services are available, not many students access these. Also, although there is scientific knowledge of current risk factors for mental health problems, there is a lack of evidence-based methods for using this knowledge to identify those at risk and refer them to appropriate services.

This research is part of an international study, headed by Professor Bruffaerts, at Leuven University in Belgium.

This is a four-year longitudinal study at SU and UCT, in which we administer a baseline assessment of lifetime history of risk factors for negative outcomes, such as academic-, mental and health problems to university students during their first year, and then collect follow-up data at the start of each subsequent year (academic years 2-4).

Therefore this collaborative, international research project proposes to examine health and wellness of students at participating institutions and aims to utilize an e-survey to identify (i) university students at risk for mental health problems, (ii) disorders and dysfunctional behaviours that should be targeted by prevention and treatment programs, and (iii) types of mental health / wellness services utilized by students.

If you want more information, please contact: Mrs Janine Roos 021 –  938 9229, e-mail: jroos@sun.ac.za or Prof Christine Lochner 021 – 938 9179, e-mail: cl2@sun.ac.za

Mental Health Topics

In partnership with:

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