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Funded PhD Opportunity

Application of the Theory of Planned Behaviour to understand health-related help-seeking among farmers

Subject: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience


In addition to the essential criteria noted below, the Degree (or equivalent) qualification must be in Psychology or a closely related discipline. We will accept applications from candidates who are about to hold

* a minimum of and Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree in Psychology or closely related discipline (or overseas award deemed equivalent via UK NARIC) .

* An additional Desirable criteria that may be applied is holding, being about to hold, a Master's level qualification in Psychology or a closely related discipline.

*You must provide official, final results of qualifications used to meet the academic requirements before the start of the studentship

Farmers are a high-risk demographic for poor physical and mental health and wellbeing, and account for the highest number of suicides compared to other occupation groups in the UK (Gregorie, 2002). Farmers in Northern Ireland report an unwillingness to seek help despite experiencing high levels of psychological and emotional distress, particularly male farmers (Carswell, & Cassidy, 2018). Efforts to improve health in communities must be founded in a clear knowledge and understanding of the factors which influence help-seeking behaviour (Judd, Jackson, Komiti, Murray, Frasier, Grieve. Gomez, 2006). In a systematic review Yousaf, Grunfield and Hunter identified, embarrassment and anxiety, sense of vulnerability, dismissing symptoms as unimportant, and poor communication and rapport with health professionals, as major barriers to help-seeking among males.

Mental health stigma and masculine norms have been reported to be twice as strong among rural men in comparison to the general population of males and females (Hammer, Vogel & Heimerdinger-Edwards, 2013). In comparison, Paxton & Sutherland (2000) argue that the farmer’s wife/ partner may face pressure as the main confidant to their husband, essentially holding the home and family together. Exploring the female perspective on their husband’s attitudes/ social norms towards help-seeking and the readiness of the wives to support their husband to seek help may assist in understanding lack of health-related help-seeking behaviour among this cohort.

The Theory of Planned behaviour (TPB; Ajzen, 1991) is a well-supported predictive model that encompasses the constructs of:  attitude, social norms, and perceived behavioural control which determine the strength of the behavioural intention. A plethora of literature has shown that intentions predict help-seeking behaviour (Fishebein, Ajex & McArdle, 1980; Lin, Oveisi, Burri, & Pakpour, 2017).

A review of the literature indicates that no studies have applied the TPB to explain help-seeking behaviours among a farming sample. The utility of TBP is well established, farmers are reported to be a high-risk demographic for poor physical and mental health, but this population lack engagement in medical and mental health care. One recent study has used humour to successfully modify intentions in farmers in regard to environmental sustainability (Vande Velde, Hudders, Cauberghe, & Claerebout, 2018).

The current study aims to use the TPB with humour messages to explore and design an intervention to increase intentions to seek help among farmers. This mixed method study will initially incorporate 20 in-depth face-to-face semi-structured interviews to gain an in-depth understanding and generate the constructs for a TPB measure specific to this population. Data will be analysed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The quantitative element will use a TPB measure with humour messages as well as the relevant measures from the Carswell and Cassidy (2018) study to derive a survey questionnaire which will be administered to a sample of 800 farmers and their spouses / partners.Participants will be recruited via the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) and the Young Farmers Association (YFA) in NI and Teagasc in RoI.

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)
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

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
Monday 18 February 2019

Interview Date
w/c 11 March 2019


Apply Online


Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
Our coastal and riverside campus focussing on science and health

Contact supervisor

Professor Tony Cassidy

Other supervisors

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