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Communication About Suicidality and Self-Harm in The Emergency Department

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, April 12, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description


Professor Rose McCabe
Dr Kirsten Barnicot

More Information

Deadline: 12 April 2020
Interview: 29 April 2020
Duration: 3 years, commencing October 2020
Stipend: £17,803

NIHR ARC North Thames

NIHR ARC North Thames is a research partnership committed to identifying the health and care problems that most concern everyone in our region and beyond, designing innovative research in response to those needs and then quickly putting the findings into practice. Led by Professor Rosalind Raine (UCL), the ARC is a collaboration of 50+ partners, including leading universities, NHS trusts, local authorities, clinical commissioning groups, UCLPartners, industry and organisations representing patients and the public. The following studentship is available in the mental health research theme.

Project Description

In the U.K., approximately 6000 people take their own life each year (National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide 2016). Death by suicide is a catastrophic loss of life for the person and the people they leave behind; children, partners, family and friends. Each death by suicide generates immeasurable personal suffering and impacts on around 20 family members, 20 friends and 20 colleagues (Berman 2011). The most important risk factor for suicide is self-harm. Self-harm refers to intentional self-poisoning or self-injury, irrespective of motive or the extent of suicidal intent (NICE 2004). Thus, it includes acts intended to result in suicide (attempted suicide), those without suicidal intent (e.g., as a coping mechanism to deal with traumatic experiences and reduce unpleasant feelings) and acts where there is a mixed or unclear motivation (Saunders and Smith 2016). The risk of suicide is 100s of times greater among people who self-harm than among the general population. Self-harm rates in the U.K are one of the highest in the world and rising (Horrocks et al. 2002), accounting for most deaths among people aged 20-24 (Patton et al. 2016). In Britain, suicide is the third largest contributor to premature mortality after heart disease and cancer (World Health Organization, 2000).

In mental health care, practitioners and patients engage in delicate and emotional face-to-face conversations about suicidal thoughts, behaviour and plans. A key setting for these conversations is the accident and emergency department (ED). EDs in England manage about 220,000 self-harm contacts per year. 1-3% people attending the ED who harm themselves take their own life the following year. The aim of this study is to explore communication about suicide between patients and mental health practitioners in routine assessments in the ED. Verbal and non-verbal communication will be analysed. This will be a mixed methods study involving qualitative and quantitative approaches, including:
1. Video-recordings of practitioner-patient meetings to gain an in-depth understanding of practitioner-patient communication
2. Interviewing patients, companions and practitioners to explore their experiences of barriers to and facilitators of improved communication
3. Reviewing meeting notes and patient medical records.

The PhD candidate will join the Centre for Mental Health Research and work with a team of researchers working on suicidality and self-harm in the ED. The team (and the PhD candidate will) collaborate closely with people with lived experience. The project will contribute to recommendations for improved experience and outcomes of attending the ED for self-harm.
Project-specific skills and experience required
• Experience of qualitative methods for analysing verbal/non-verbal communication (ideally conversation analysis)
• Knowledge of quantitative methods
• Organisational skills
• Interest in mental health


• Candidates should hold a Master’s in a relevant discipline (or complete their Master’s by September 2020) and have a minimum of a 2:1 or equivalent in their first degree.
• All applicants require excellent written and verbal communication skills and should be willing to work collaboratively in multi-disciplinary and multi-professional teams.
• Due to funding restrictions, applicants must be UK/EU nationals. Please see UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA - for criteria.
• Applicants should preferably have knowledge of the UK health and care system.

How to apply

Your application should consist of:
• A CV (qualifications, work experience, publications, presentations and prizes) & contact details of two academic referees.
• A personal statement (300 words) describing your suitability for the proposed project including how your research experience, skills and interests relate to the topic.
• A 1-page proposal of how you would develop the PhD project that you are applying for.

For applications and enquiries, please email

Funding Notes

Duration: 3 years, commencing October 2020
Stipend: £17,803
Competitively Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only). Only one applicant for both ‘Management of risk in eye cancer presentation and referral’ and ‘Communication About Suicidality and Self-Harm in The Emergency Department’ will be appointed.

Details of the other project can be found here: View Website

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