Postgraduate Researchers

At the Institute for Mental Health our academics are currently supporting 40 PhD students, supervising and co-supervising around a variety of vital research areas to address mental health challenges.  Find out about 3 of our students’ research here along with an update from our Wellcome DTP Scholars.

Nada Altaweel

Nada is a third-year Ph.D. researcher in the Institute for Mental Health.  Her research interests are in the area of mood disorders, particularly depression. Nada’s Ph.D. project focuses on personality and its role in different outcomes of depression, such as relapse and recovery. She has conducted a systematic review to identify personality traits that could be risk factors for relapse and recurrence of depression. Neuroticism and dependent personality style were associated with the risk of both relapse and recurrence in depression. The presence of personality disorders, particularly borderline personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, have also been reported as increasing the risk for relapse of depression. Nada has also conducted a secondary data analysis study using the adult psychiatric morbidity survey to investigate the relationship between personality factors and some depression outcomes (recovery, persistence, and onset of depression). The following study is a case-control study that will explore some personality traits that have not been investigated sufficiently in the literature, such as impulsivity and emotional dysregulation, and their association with depressive relapse. Nada hopes to contribute through her work to the field of mood disorders and the development of effective intervention plans for depression.

Piyali Bhattacharya

Piyali is a 2nd year doctoral researcher in the Institute for Mental Health, School of Psychology. Her research interests lie in the areas of Personality Disorders, Psychosis, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. For her PhD she is looking into the concept of psychological independence from a cross-cultural perspective from autistic adults with associated co-occurring mental health difficulties (namely: anxiety and depression). Independence is a focus of interventions for people with neuro-developmental conditions. Despite many types of research focusing on measuring functional independence, the data is not been synthesized for research. Hence, a systematic review is conducted that aimed to identify and review measures of psychological independence in people with neurodevelopmental conditions.  There are different ways to experience and exercise independence, and different cultures may emphasize different ways of being independent. Thus, exploring both the functional and psychological dimensions warrants further investigation to measure overall independence in autistic people. A qualitative study is timely to understand how autistic people define independence in their lives and what aspects of independence are most important to autistic people. This may differ cross-culturally. The qualitative study is being undertaken which will help to outline and describe the domains that will further aid to design a comprehensive measure that would provide a quantitative measurement of overall independence. Further, a scale will be constructed that would provide a comprehensive quantitative measurement of independence. The reason to develop this scale of independence is being able to suggest appropriate targets for interventions and services, and to identify individuals who require additional support. 

Sukhwinder Kaur (Essie)

Essie is a first-year Ph.D. researcher at the School of Social Policy. Her research interests are in employee mental health and organisational behaviour in healthcare services, systems and workforces. Essie’s research activities and aims include developing novel psychological- and behaviour-based interventions for improving employee mental health, communication and performance.  

Essie’s Ph.D. project focuses on NHS employee mental health and burnout, focusing on the role of communication behaviours, such as voice and silence. She is conducting a systematic review to determine a conceptual framework of silence behaviour in healthcare settings and how it may be linked to poor employee mental health, burnout and/or absenteeism.  

One of her primary research streams investigates the process of breaking bad or unexpected news in healthcare contexts with Dr Johnson at the University of Leeds.  

INDIRA Coach is being piloted as a multi-phase project to evaluate whether communication coaching could be a useful intervention for healthcare professionals and improve experiences for both staff and patients. In addition, she has worked on other projects concerning access and quality of staff mental health and wellbeing support services; improving patient access and pathways to primary care for allied health services and various research evaluation studies. 

Essie uses her research knowledge and practice-based work to inform healthcare systems and services; training and development practices; workforce support and policy in practice (e.g., identifying which interventions can reduce healthcare staff burnout and improve retention). As a result on her on-going doctoral training, she is skilled in a variety of advanced statistical and specialist qualitative methods, techniques and analyses, and often undertakes mixed methods research. 

Wellcome DTP Scholars

£7.24 million was awarded to the University of Nottingham to establish the programme in collaboration with the Universities of Leicester, Birmingham and Warwick and several NHS Trusts in the Midlands, including Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. The funding provides an opportunity for a broad range of healthcare professionals from psychiatrists and neurologists to occupational therapists to complete a PhD. The new Doctoral Training Programme (DTP) began in October 2022 with 3 of the 5 successful students being hosted at UoB. On 7th December The Institute for Mental Health and Centre for Human Brain Health hosted the first training day for the new cohort of Wellcome Mental Health and Neurosciences PhD Programme for Healthcare professionals.  

The training day was led by international experts across the IMH, University of Birmingham and focussed on skills surrounding well-being and resilience (Dr. Pat Lockwood and Prof. Matthew Broome), writing a thesis (Dr. Paris Lalousis), conducting research in an NHS setting (Dr. Emma Cernis), co-production and mental health research (Prof. Liz McDermott) and work-life balance (Dr. Gerald Jordan).   

As part of the neuroscience-based well-being and resilience training the students learnt how to make a neuron out of pipe cleaners and to have the space to discuss different challenges and opportunities of conducting a PhD and being resilient to set-backs.  

One student commented on the helpfulness of this sort of session, ‘Thank you for being open about your career path and the rejections – it’s so helpful to have this sort of insight in these early stages, especially for those of us who haven’t been on an academic track’.  

We look forward to supporting the cohort over the next 3 years of their programme. 

Postgraduate Taught

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