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Funded PhD Opportunity

Trauma, alcohol & mental health; how do these impact on help-seeking for veterans in Northern Ireland? / Healthy Communities

This project is funded by: The Royal British Legion

Subject: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience


The relationship between the experience of trauma, alcohol use and mental health has been well documented in the active duty and military veteran literature (e.g., Hassija, Jakupcak, Maguen, & Shipher, 2012; Hollis, Kelley, & Bravo, 2017; Jakupcak et al., 2010). A number of studies have also examined the help-seeking behaviours in this population (Hom, Stanley, Schneider, & Joiner, 2017). The majority of this research has, however focused on veterans from the US, Canada, Australia, Israel and the wider UK.

The evidence base regarding mental health, including the prevalence of alcohol use disorders, in the Northern Ireland (NI) military veteran population is limited. Military veterans living in NI can be considered different from veterans residing elsewhere in the world. There are two possible reasons for this; firstly, many of those who served in Operation Banner (1969 – 2007), the longest deployment operation in British military history, were NI residents, living in their communities during their service. This meant being on guard both on and off duty. The communities in which individuals lived could therefore also be regarded as their operational theatre. Previous research has shown that prolonged and constant perception of threat is associated with poor psychological well-being (Mott, Graham, & Teng, 2012; Schmid & Muldoon, 2013), which could compound the effects of military service.

Secondly, unlike other military personnel elsewhere in the world, those who were resident in NI, were, at the end of their service, transitioning not into a safe place of the civilian world, but rather into their former operational theatre filled with their former enemies. Recent qualitative research conducted by the Northern Ireland Veterans’ Health and Wellbeing Study group has indicated that such circumstances could have negative effects on one’s mental well-being and could potentially affect veterans’ help-seeking behaviours due to feelings of mistrust (Armour, Walker, Waterhouse-Bradley, Hall, & Ross, 2017).

This PhD project will examine the relationships between trauma, alcohol usage, mental health and help-seeking behaviours in a sample of veterans living in NI. The main aims will be to:

*Examine how traumatic life events (both within and outside of the military) and different military experiences (both positive and negative) affect a variety of mental health conditions, including alcohol use disorder

*Identify the ways in which alcohol usage impacts upon the help-seeking behaviours, coping and quality of life

*Establish whether these processes differ between veterans using alcohol with and without mental health issues.

The project will utilise a mixed methods approach. Statistical analyses will be used to analyse secondary data collected by the Northern Ireland Veterans’ Health and Well-being Study.

The PhD student will additionally conduct a series of one to one qualitative interviews, in which they will explore in depth veterans’ attitudes to alcohol usage and help-seeking. As this is an externally funded project, the student will additionally have an opportunity to write up a technical report for the funder, which will be disseminated within the veteran-specific MOD and voluntary and community sector organisations, as well as those in the statutory sector. The report will outline a series of recommendations on how to best support NI veterans with alcohol use and other mental health problems.


Armour, C., Walker, E., Waterhouse-Bradley, B., Hall, M., & Ross, J. (2017). Current and future needs of veterans in Northern Ireland. Retrieved from

Hassija, C. M., Jakupcak, M., Maguen, S., & Shipherd, J. C. (2012). The influence of combat and interpersonal trauma on PTSD, depression, and alcohol misuse in U.S. Gulf War and OEF/OIF women veterans. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25(2), 216-219.

*Hollis, B., Kelley, M. L., & Bravo, A. J. (2017). Pre-military abuse, mental health, and hazardous alcohol use among military personnel. Journal of Substance Use, 22(2), 187-191.

Hom, M. A., Stanley, I. H., Schneider, M. E., & Joiner, T. E. Jr. (2017). A systematic review of help-seeking and mental health service utilization among military service members. Clinical Psychology Review, 53, 59-78.

Jakupcak, M., Tull, M. T., McDermott, M. J., Kaysen, D., Hunt, S., & Simpson, T. (2010). PTSD symptom clusters in relationship to alcohol misuse among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seeking post-deployment VA health care. Addictive Behaviors, 35, 840-843.

Mott, J. M., Graham, D. P., & Teng, E. J. (2012). Perceived threat during deployment: Risk factors and relation to axis I disorders. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 4(6), 587-595.

Schmid, K., & Muldoon, O. T. (2013). Perceived threat, social identification, and psychological well-being: The effects of political conflict exposure. Political Psychology, 36(1), 75-92.

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Experience of presentation of research findings


This project is funded by: The Royal British Legion

The scholarship will cover tuition fees and maintenance award of not less than £14,553 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK and EU candidates only.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 30 March 2018

Interview Date
Week commencing 16th April 2018


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