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Identifying pathways to mental health presentations in congenital skin conditions

   Cardiff School of Psychology

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  Dr W Davies, Prof A Thompson, Dr T Humby  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Skin conditions are often associated with an increased risk of psychological distress, notably mood disturbance such as depression, anxiety and irritability [1]; however, in many cases, the pathways mediating these associations have not been systematically investigated. Understanding which factor(s) predispose most strongly to mental health presentations in individuals with skin disorders is fundamental to identifying the best therapeutic targets and mitigating risk associated with comorbidity of skin disease and psychological disorder.

Our previous studies, which have involved considerable input from graduate and undergraduate students, have focussed on neurodevelopmental and mood disturbance and their underlying determinants in the rare genetic conditions X-linked ichthyosis and ichthyosis vulgaris [2-5]. Other studies have looked at experiential aspects of living with a range of skin conditions and understanding psychological variables that might play a protective role [6]. The proposed project will initially extend this work to investigate mental health issues and their basis in other rare congenital skin conditions (including other ichthyoses) and in more common, better-studied, comparator conditions such as eczema and acne. Subsequently, potential interventional strategies for specific conditions may be identified and trialled.    

The project will use both quantitative and qualitative approaches e.g. developing, disseminating and analysing online surveys [7] and undertaking focus groups/interviews with affected individuals and their family members. The project will be undertaken across the School of Psychology [8], Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics [9], and Neuroscience and Mental Health Innovation Institute [10] at Cardiff University, will involve substantial interaction with clinical psychologists, researchers and clinicians with an interest in psychodermatology, and will engage UK and international external collaborators including Ichthyosis Support Group UK [11], Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types (FIRST) USA [12], and online patient support groups.

Home students are UK Nationals and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements (students must have been in the UK for >3 years before start of course).

As only a limited number of studentships are available across the Open School competition and a very high standard of applications is typically received, the successful applicants are likely to have a very good first degree (a First or Upper Second class BSc Honours or equivalent) and/or be distinguished by having relevant research experience.

Funding Notes

Applications from Home and International students are welcome. Studentships are awarded on a competitive basis in competition with other projects in the Open School competition. The number of international studentships is limited.
The studentship commences in October 2023, covers 3 years tuition fees and maintenance, with submission deadline of 4 years. The 2022/23 full-time maintenance grant was £17,668 p.a. School of Psychology students receive conference and participant money (~£2,250), computer, office space, access to courses and become members of the Doctoral Academy.
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[2] Chatterjee S et al. (2016) Behavioural and Psychiatric Phenotypes in Men and Boys with X-Linked Ichthyosis: Evidence from a Worldwide Online Survey. PLoS One. 11(10):e0164417. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0164417.

[3] Cavenagh A et al. (2019) Behavioural and psychiatric phenotypes in female carriers of genetic mutations associated with X-linked ichthyosis. PLoS One. 14(2):e0212330. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0212330.
[4] Brcic L et al. (2020) Medical and neurobehavioural phenotypes in carriers of X-linked ichthyosis-associated genetic deletions in the UK Biobank. J Med Genet. 57(10):692-698. doi: 10.1136/jmedgenet-2019-106676.
[5] Wren G et al. (2022) Mood symptoms, neurodevelopmental traits, and their contributory factors in X-linked ichthyosis, ichthyosis vulgaris and psoriasis. Clin Exp Dermatol. 47(6):1097-1108. doi: 10.1111/ced.15116.
[6] Clarke EN et al. (2022) How does self-compassion help people adjust to chronic skin conditions? A template analysis study Front Med (Lausanne) 9:974816 doi: 10.3389/fmed.2022.974816
[7] Davies W (2016) Insights into rare diseases from social media online surveys Orphanet J Rare Dis 11(1):151 doi: 10.1186/s13023-016-0532-x
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