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Substance use in relation to the mental and sexual health of vulnerable adolescents and young adults under 25 in coastal areas of Kent and Sussex

Post-graduate Research

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Prof C Llewellyn , Dr N Edelman No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

We are looking for an enthusiastic student, with a master’s degree in a psychology, health, epidemiological or social care related subject, who wishes to study for a PhD within the structure of the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. The appointable candidate will have a background and/or interest in marginalised adolescents and young people and/or substance use and will bring skills in communicating with members of the community or co-design of research or services and an interest in bringing health interventions to people who need them.

We need to meet particular health and social challenges in our region. Despite general affluence across Surrey, Sussex and Kent we have some of the most socially deprived wards in England mainly located in our coastal towns; higher than average children in care, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and young people with self-harm and emotional problems. Data has shown that mental health and adverse sexual health outcomes are linked. Alcohol and recreational drugs are a major factor in sexual risk taking. Data indicates that frequent binge drinking and recent drug use are associated with adverse sexual health outcomes such as unprotected first sex with one or more new partners, emergency contraception use and sexually transmitted infections (Khadr et al., 2016). One in five 16-24 year olds have used an illicit drug in the last year (BASHH 2014). Chemsex (the use of drugs to facilitate or enhance sex) is a risk factor for enhanced sexual risk taking. There is increasing recognition of the problematic use of these substances and its potential negative impact on sexual and public health. There is also increasing recognition that, for some people, preventing such negative impacts on sexual health requires also addressing effectively their problematic drug use.

This PhD will focus on one of the four ARC Public Health subthemes of substance use in relation to mental health, sexual health and blood borne viruses in adolescents and young adults (age 16-25 years old). The aims will be to better understand how substance use is related to the mental and sexual health of vulnerable adolescents and young adults under 25 across Kent, Surrey and Sussex and to better understand the emerging contribution of chemsex within this population and young people’s understanding of their own health behaviours and how this impacts on engagement with mental and sexual health services.

These aims will likely be achieved through the following activities:
Evidence reviews; Scoping of target populations for co-production: Identification of those young people (aged 16-25) who represent ‘seldom heard’ voices, including those who identify within LGBT communities, those in deprived coastal communities, those from refugee and other immigrant populations, young people of colour and under 25s living separate from primary family/kinship groups including looked after children; Collaborations with third sector youth community organisations across Kent, Surrey and Sussex with a view to reducing ‘intervention generated inequalities’; Qualitative/ethnographic work to better understand substance misuse patterns and needs in coastal areas addressing its relationship/ contribution to sexual risk and understanding the barriers to engaging with existing community based interventions designed for young people; quantitative methods and risk assessment tool designed and co-produced with and for young people.

It is envisaged that links will be made across ARC themes of: Social care; Starting Well: Early detection and Intervention of Mental Health Problems in Children and Adolescents; Primary and Community Health Services; and cross cutting themes: Public Health; Co-Production and Digital Innovation.

An interest/ knowledge of marginalised youth communities in the south east of England would be an advantage.

Funding Notes

Applicants for this 3-year PhD funded by Kent, Surrey & Sussex ARC and BSMS starting January 2021 should possess or expect to be awarded a minimum of a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (or equivalent).

UK/EU and non-EU citizens can apply (home fees will be paid for UK/EU citizens; non-UK/EU citizens will be liable for the difference in home and international fees).

Please direct informal project enquiries to Dr Natalie Edelman ([Email Address Removed]) or Prof. Carrie Llewellyn ([Email Address Removed]).

To apply, please visit University of Brighton website (https://evsipr.brighton.ac.uk/urd/sits.urd/run/siw_ipp_lgn.login?process=siw_ipp_app_crs). Please contact the BSMS Doctoral and Research Officer ([Email Address Removed]) if any queries.


Clinical Effectiveness Group: British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (2019) UK National Guideline for consultations requiring sexual history taking. https://www.bashhguidelines.org/media/1239/2019-sexual-history-guidelines-final.pdf

British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (2014) BASHH statement on ‘club’ (recreational) drug use. https://www.bashh.org/documents/BASHH%20Statement%20on%20'club'%20(recreational)%20drug%20use.pdf

Khadr SN, Jones KG, Mann S, Hale DR, Johnson AM, Viner RM, Mercer C and Wellings K (2016) Investigating the relationship between substance use and sexual behaviour in young people in Britain: findings from a national probability survey BMJ Open 6(6): e011961.

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