Research Higher Degree Projects

Research Higher Degree Projects

We are currently offering research higher degree projects in the following areas:

  • Heart disease and psychosis
  • Phenomenology and neurocognitive dysfunction in psychosis
  • Stress and psychosis
  • Trauma and first-episode psychosis
  • Anxiety and schizophrenia
  • Depression in young people

Please see below for project and contact details.

1. Explaining the elevated risk for heart disease in young people with psychosis

This is a treatment study of young people with psychosis. The project focuses on risk factors for heart disease in people aged between 16–25 years at their entry to a psychosis treatment centre, and tracks change in these risk factors after initiation of treatment with antipsychotic drugs. Skills acquired by conducting this work will include learning how to analyse data collected from a specialised psychosis treatment centre with a focus on the adverse physical health side effects of psychotropic drugs, prescribed medication and other drug use histories. An opportunity exists for a highly motivated student who is interested in youth mental health and its relationship to physical health outcomes to work on a data analysis project under the supervision of Dr Debra Foley from the Applied Genetics Unit at Orygen Youth Health Research Centre and the Centre for Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne. Other Orygen based investigators associated with the project include Professor Andrew Mackinnon.

Contact for more information: Dr Debra Foley

2. Self disturbance and vulnerability to psychosis: Linking phenomenology and neurocognition in early psychosis

Phenomenological research indicates that disturbance of the basic sense of self may be a core phenotypic marker of schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Basic self-disturbance refers to a disruption of the sense of ownership of experience and agency of action and is associated with a variety of anomalous subjective experiences. In this study, we will investigate the neurocognitive correlates of basic self disturbance using an “ultra high risk” for psychosis sample, a “first episode psychosis” sample and a clinical control group. The results of this study may help us to understand the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms associated with the core phenomenology of schizophrenia spectrum conditions.

Contact for more information: Dr Barnaby Nelson

3. The relationship between biological and subjective measures of stress and psychiatric symptoms in an ultra-high risk for psychosis cohort

Researchers have hypothesised that stress plays an important role in the onset and maintenance of psychotic disorders. The ultra-high risk (UHR) for psychosis population is a valuable population in which to investigate the relationship between these variables. The current study is a cross-sectional investigation of the relationship between biological measures of stress (salivary cortisol measures), subjective experience of stressful events, and psychiatric symptoms in a UHR cohort at the PACE clinic, Orygen Youth Health. It is hypothesised that there will be a positive relationship between biological and subjective measures of stress and that both of these variables will be positively correlated with general psychiatric symptoms.

Contact for more information: Dr Barnaby Nelson

4. TRIPP (Trauma-informed psychotherapy for psychosis)

TRIPP is a randomized controlled trial of a novel cognitive behaviorally based intervention for the symptoms of trauma in young people with first episode psychosis at EPPIC. The trauma intervention is being compared with EPPIC treatment as usual. Five EPPIC case managers are delivering the allocated intervention to consenting participants over a 6-month period. There are several Masters and PhD projects available within this project including: examination of the fidelity to manualised treatment of the therapy sessions.

Contact for more information: Dr Sarah Bendall

5. Investigating the relationship amongst trauma, post-traumatic sequelae, cognition, and functioning in first episode psychosis: What should be our targets for therapeutic interventions?

We are currently conducting a research study investigating the mechanisms by which traumatic experiences confer a risk for psychosis. We are assessing young people with first episode psychosis for past trauma, psychotic symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, and cognitive mechanisms that have been theorised to underlie the relationships amongst trauma, the above trauma sequelae and psychotic symptoms. Such mechanisms include early maladaptive schemas, external source misattributions and selective attention. Further, we are interested in the impact on these variables on the functioning of young people with trauma and psychosis. This project involves the assessment of a cohort of young people with FEP at EPPIC. There are several Masters and PhD projects available within this project including: the use of experience sampling to explore the temporal relationship between intrusive symptoms and hallucinations; a qualitative exploration of the phenomenological similarities and differences between post-traumatic intrusions and hallucinations and delusions; a longitudinal follow-up of the cohort.

Contact for more information: Dr Sarah Bendall

6. Anxiety symptoms and disorders in schizophrenia

Anxiety disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social phobia are prevalent in patients with schizophrenia. Further, it has been argued that anxiety symptoms may be an inherent characteristic of schizophrenia. However, the nature and characteristics of anxiety in patients with first-episode schizophrenia are poorly understood. Thus, the aim of this project will be to determine the prevalence, characteristics and stability of anxiety (symptoms and disorder) in patients with first-episode schizophrenia. The psychometric properties of measures of anxiety will also be examined. The student will develop an understanding of the issue of comorbidity in schizophrenia as well as an appreciation of measurement issues in psychiatry.

Contact for more information: Dr Sue Cotton

7. Improving the management of depression in young people

While clinical practice guidelines exist for the management of depression in young people, it has been shown that the recommendations in such guidelines are often not incorporated into real-world clinical practice. The proposed study would measure the effectiveness of new resources aimed at helping clinicians to manage and treat young people with a depressive disorder according to guideline recommendations, and seeks to investigate the role of attitudes and beliefs in affecting any demonstrated change in practice. It would involve a clinical file audit at Orygen Youth Health to measure current practice, which would be compared to a previous audit already undertaken.

Contact for more information: Dr Sarah Hetrick