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Exercise for mental health in adolescents

Project Description

Mental health has never been more prevalent, with an estimated 1 in 6 people experiencing a common mental health problem this past week. Stress is a leading cause of mental health problems. This past year 74% of people reported feeling so stressed they were overwhelmed or unable to cope (YouGov Mental Health Foundation, 2018). Stress and poor mental health is particularly evident in adolescents. Teenagers experience pressures from school, families, work, and social media to perform and function in society. This is particularly challenging given adolescents experience cognitive and physical changes during a time they are establishing their identity as they move into adulthood. These individuals also commonly undergo stressful transitions such as leaving school and moving to university or starting full time employment. In sum, teenagers are more stressed than they have ever been. It is therefore important that effective interventions are developed to support and help adolescents cope with stress to improve and maintain mental health. Exercise has been shown to reduce perceived stress but less is known about the most effective type of exercise for regulating stress in adolescents. Furthermore, 81% of school going adolescents are thought to be insufficiently physically active (World Health Organisation). It is therefore imperative that feasible intervention programmes are developed to encourage the uptake and maintenance of exercise in adolescents in order to induce sustained improvements in mental health.

The proposed PhD project will use a series of studies applying different methodological approaches to:
1. Explore the associations between exercise, stress, and mental health in adolescents
a. Using surveys, a large sample of adolescents will be asked to report their levels and type of exercise, perceived stress, and mental health.
b. Using a laboratory-based protocol, the effects of different acute bouts of exercise intensity on the psychological responses to an acute standardised stress task will be explored.
2. Develop an education programme to reduce stress in order to enhance mental health in adolescents. The programme will be developed using the information from the first part of the project and the programme’s feasibility will be assessed.

The combination of a large-scale cross-sectional study, a laboratory based experimental study, and a feasibility study will give the PhD candidate training and experience in a wide range of research methodologies and subject specific skills.

We are looking for a highly talented and dedicated PhD student with a 1st class or 2:1 degree in the field of sport psychology / exercise sciences / public health / behavioural medicine. A Masters Degree (or near completion) in an appropriate subject area will be an advantage. Previous experience with analysing databases, running interventions or administering laboratory-based psychological stress testing paradigms are desirable. Previous experience with working with adolescents or young people and conducting field based work is also favourable. The candidate will need to work well both independently and as part of a team, have excellent communication skills, proficient knowledge of quantitative research methods, and possess an ability to learn laboratory and field based research skills and use different pieces of laboratory equipment quickly and efficiently.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the Global Challenges Scholarship.
The award comprises:

Full payment of tuition fees at UK Research Councils UK/EU fee level (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual tax-free doctoral stipend at UK Research Councils UK/EU rates (£15,009 for 2019/20), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Global Challenges scholar by the University;
The tenure of the award can be for up to 3.5 years (42 months).

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