The risk-benefit ratio of studying psychiatric symptoms via daily diary methods

Academic Article


  • Ethics committee members and researchers have deliberated about the risk-benefit ratio of researching sensitive issues such as psychiatric symptoms. Although research has suggested that inquiring about psychiatric symptoms in research generally does not cause harm, these findings have primarily arisen from cross-sectional studies. We examined whether this generalized to repeated, daily assessments of psychiatric symptoms. We collected daily survey data on psychiatric symptoms over 90¬†days from a sample of 206 college students. A subset of the sample (n =¬†80) provided reactions to study participation administered on the 90th day. Individuals who did not complete the 90th day survey reported higher levels of suicidal ideation and hopelessness than those who did. For individuals who completed the 90th, final assessment, reactions primarily fell within the neutral to positive range, with variation depending on their baseline levels of psychiatric symptoms and identification as religious. This study adds to past work by demonstrating that individuals who remained in the study had neutral to positive experiences. However, participants with greater suicidal ideation and hopelessness were likely to attrit, warranting caution in assuming a low risk-benefit ratio of these studies. Management of risks involved in repeated assessment studies may be informed by this work.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Wolford-Clevenger C; Hugley MJ; McNulty J; Elledge LC; Cropsey K; Stuart GL
  • Start Page

  • 498
  • End Page

  • 511
  • Volume

  • 26
  • Issue

  • 8