Funded PhD Opportunity Prevalance and predictors of ICD-11 PTSD and Complex PTSD in the UK Fire Service

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience


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

  • 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

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


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 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 £15,009 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.

Institute of Mental Health Sciences

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
Between 11 to 29 March 2019


Coleraine campus

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

Contact Supervisor

Professor Mark Shevlin

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #346026 when applying for this PhD opportunity