Summary

Firefighters are continually tasked to incidents where they are likely to experience scenes that place them at a higher risk of developing psychological disorders related to stress. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis showed that emergency service workers are at a greater risk of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the general population and continued exposure to stressful experiences at work increase the likelihood of developing PTSD (Milligan-Saville et al., 2018). There is also a lot of variation in the availability of psychological support that is available to fire fighters at an organisational level, and there are different psychological explanations that have tried to describe the factors that facilitate or hinder help-seeking (Kim et al, 2018). To date, the assessment of PTSD in firefighters has been based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual produced by the American Psychiatric Association. Recently, a new formulation of PTSD was adopted by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

This new formulation of PTSD also included a ‘sibling’ disorder, Complex PTSD (CPTSD). CPTSD has all the core symptoms of PTSD but also includes clusters of symptoms representing ‘disturbances in self-organization' (DSO). These disturbances include affective dysregulation, negative self-concept and disturbed relationships. The DSO symptom clusters are intended to capture the pervasive psychological disturbances that typically arise following exposure to multiple and repeated traumas.

To date there has been no assessment of PTSD and CPTSD in firefighters. This project aims to

(1) assess the level of ICD-11 posttraumatic stress severity in a large sample of UK fire fighters,

(2) describe the rates and frequency of exposure to different stressful work-related events,

(3) estimate the relationship between stress exposure and posttraumatic stress severity, and determine if this is moderated by employment related factors (e.g. length of service, previous experiences etc),

(4) evaluate the provision and up-take of mental health support services, and determine how these vary across UK brigades, and

(5) assess whether posttraumatic stress severity differs depending on provision and up-take of mental health support services.

This project will use data from a large survey of UK fire fighters (N=1200) that was collected by John Langtry OBE, an ex-fire fighter who started this study but passed away before the project could be completed. It will be expected that that the successful candidate will also work closely with the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade Union to ensure that the findings are used to improve the psychological well-being of fire fighters.

Kim, J. E., Dager, S. R., Jeong, H. S., Ma, J., Park, S., Kim, J., ... & Cho, H. B. (2018). Firefighters, posttraumatic stress disorder, and barriers to treatment: Results from a nationwide total population survey. PloS one, 13(1), e0190630.

Milligan-Saville, J., Choi, I., Deady, M., Scott, P., Tan, L., Calvo, R. A., ... & Harvey, S. B. (2018). The impact of trauma exposure on the development of PTSD and psychological distress in a volunteer fire service. Psychiatry research, 270, 1110-1115.


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • 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

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.

  • Masters at 65%
  • 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

Funding

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

    Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

    Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

    Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies

Institute of Mental Health Sciences


Other information


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


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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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My name is Nargis Khan and I am originally from Pakistan. I first came to Ulster University to study psychology at the undergraduate level and later joined a doctoral course which I have now successfully completed. I had a fantastic time studying in Ulster at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level. Throughout my PhD, I was well catered for in terms of resources with access to well-stocked libraries full of friendly and helpful staff, funding to travel to conferences, the availability of various courses (e.g., statistics) and above all a supportive and stimulating environment which fostered my academic development. The seminars organised during the term time allowed me to present my work and hear about the research of others across a range of areas. I particularly appreciated the teaching opportunities available to me during my PhD. My supervisors were supportive and generous with their time. Other members of staff in the Psychology department also took a genuine interest in the

Nargis Khan - PhD in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience