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Understanding and modifying psychological risk factors for psychosis in young people


Project Description

Supervisors: Dr. Pamela Jacobsen (University of Bath), Dr. Gemma Taylor (University of Bath), Dr. Hannah Jones (University of Bristol)

Psychosis-spectrum disorders commonly start to emerge in young adults between the ages of 16-25. Existing early-intervention strategies have focused on the identification, and targeted treatment, of young people who are considered at risk for developing a psychotic illness. However, there are major limitations to this approach, as many people who go on to receive a diagnosis of first-episode psychosis, first present without psychotic symptoms, and only a small proportion (<5%) will have already had contact with early intervention services. Recent research has therefore highlighted the importance of identifying broader underlying psychological vulnerabilities (e.g. stress reactivity) to the later development of a psychotic illness. This is in line with a shift away from a medical-risk approach towards a more public health perspective. Furthermore recent findings from large longitudinal datasets indicate that adverse life events such as trauma are strongly implicated as causal factors in the later development of psychotic symptoms in adolescence. This highlights the need for further work to identify modifiable mediators to inform prevention and intervention strategies.

This PhD will involve 3 main stages. Training will be provided in all the key research areas outlined below, however an interest in mental health epidemiology and applied clinical psychology would be advantageous.
1) Systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies examining psychological factors (e.g. stress reactivity) for the development of psychosis, with a particular emphasis on identifying plausible candidates for mediators of the relationship between trauma and psychosis.
2) Building on the results of stage 1, the student will then test hypothesised mediators by way of secondary analysis of combined longitudinal datasets (ALSPAC and the Millennium Cohort Study) by comparing effect estimates derived from multivariate regression modelling and propensity score matching. The student will learn how to conduct advanced epidemiological analysis and become proficient in using appropriate quantitative analysis software such as R and STATA.
3) To use qualitative methods to explore the acceptability of more universally targeted early intervention strategies, such as mindfulness, to adolescents who may be at high risk of developing psychosis. This could include, for example, conducting focus groups with young people to identify key themes, which could then be explored further in one-to-one interviews. Qualitative research skills training would include developing an appropriate interview schedule, interviewing, transcribing, using specialist software for qualitative analysis (e.g. nVIVO), and selection of appropriate analytic framework (e.g. thematic analysis).

Funding Notes

Application criteria Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First or high Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or the equivalent qualification gained outside the UK) in a relevant subject. Applicants applying for a +3 award should hold, or expect to receive, a relevant Master’s level qualification.
Full details on how to apply can be found here:
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