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07 October 2019

The Centre for Society & Mental Health announces exciting new PhD studentships

King's Centre for Society & Mental Health announces new PhD studentships in three areas.

man studying
Centre for Society & Mental Health studentships

The Centre for Society & Mental Health is proud to announce three new PhD studentships!

These studentships align with the research areas of faculty in the center and are affiliated with The London Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Partnership (LISS DTP).


PhD Studentship 1:

Self-harm in adolescence and the influence of peer networks and social media

Primary Supervisor: Professor Craig Morgan

Length: 1+3: the student will complete a LISS DTP MSc in Mental Health Studies, including training in advanced quantitative, longitudinal social network analyses, and qualitative analyses to fully equip him/her to complete this project. Adolescent self-harm is a major and growing public health concern. A decade ago, the estimated prevalence of self-harm among adolescents in the UK was around 10%. Since then, through a period of major social change and explosion in social media use, rates of adolescent self-harm have increased rapidly, particularly among girls.

To inform effective early intervention to prevent and reduce adolescent self-harm, we first need to understand which factors increase and, importantly, decrease risk among adolescents from diverse backgrounds. At present, while various explanations have been proposed, our understanding of the drivers of rapidly increasing rates and severity of self-harm, and how to reduce these, is limited. This project will combine several methods to investigate the development and ‘spread’ of self-harm through social networks during adolescence, with a particular focus on the role of social media.

These include:

  1. A systematic review and meta-analysis of existing literature on rates of self-harm among adolescents over time and a systematic review and narrative synthesis of putative explanations highlighted in the literature
  2. Secondary analyses of existing data on self-harm, social networks and other putative explanatory factors, collected from the REACH cohort of around 1,200 adolescents (aged 11 to 14 and followed to age 16) using longitudinal network analyses. The student will visit our partners at Indiana University, who have expertise and ongoing programmes in social network analyses
  3. Qualitative data using digital diaries on a sub-sample of around 40 adolescents who report self-harm to gain in-depth accounts of what factors, from the perspectives of young people, increase and decrease likelihood of self-harm, in particular the role of friendships and social media.


PhD Studentship 2:

Welfare reform, poor mental health and food bank use in the UK

Primary Supervisor: Professor Mauricio Avendano

Length: 1+3; student will complete a LISS DTP approved MSc in Mental Health Studies including training in advanced quantitative and qualitative analysis to fully equip him/her to complete this project.

Evidence suggests that recent welfare reform may underlie the growing number of people experiencing food insecurity and seeking food assistance in the UK. The prevalence of mental health problems is high among food bank users, affecting over 35% of this population. The causal mechanisms linking mental health disorders, household food insecurity and use of food banks remain poorly understood. Poor mental health conditions may be the result of poverty and economic disadvantage,which are also linked to food insecurity and food bank use. But poor mental health may also increase risk of food insecurity, sometimes independent of income.

This project will examine the relationship and underlying causal mechanisms between welfare reform, food insecurity and mental health, with a particular focus on the rise in the use of food banks since 2010 in the UK. It builds on our track record of research within the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network and the findings of our ongoing pilot study.

It uses a mixed-methods approach:

  1. to explore the impact of welfare reform on the risk of mental health disorders among food bank users;
  2. to examine the impact of welfare reform on the use of food banks among people with mental health problems;
  3. to assess the life-course risk factors for food insecurity, food bank use and mental health disorders;
  4. to use a quantitative survey among food bank users in London to characterise their mental health and nutritional status; assess their use of mental health services to examine use of welfare assistance benefits and reconstruct their life histories to identify risk factors for food bank use and mental health;
  5. to use in-depth interviews with food bank users to assess the complex interactions between mental health, work, welfare history and food insecurity over the life-course;
  6. to undertake longitudinal analyses of the Understanding Society survey using a difference-in-differences approach to examine how food expenditure changed for individuals exposed to policy change,how these affected the mental health of participants, and how welfare reform affected consumption patterns of benefit users with mental health problems.


PhD Studentship 3:

Applicants can apply for a studentship in ONE of the following 5 areas:


Workplace Stress: a critical evaluation of strategies to understand and combat the stresses of working life

Primary Supervisor: Professor Nik Rose

Length: 1+3: student will complete a LISS DTP approved MSc (to be confirmed) including training in advanced quantitative and qualitative analysis to fully equip him/her to complete this project.

Over the past decade, ‘workplace stress’ has become a major concern for companies, campaigning organisations, and NGOs in many parts of the world. There is evidence this is a major cause of mental health problems from anxiety and depression to suicide, and of lost productivity due to absenteeism and ‘presenteeism’. Campaigning organisations have been set up, often with the support of large employers, to identify individuals experiencing workplace stress and to provide them with mental health first aid, to teach coping strategies, and where necessary direct them to mental health services. While some of these are managed by the HR departments of large corporations, others are undertaken by specific mental health teams.

But what of workplace stress in the work situations of the most marginalised – the workers in the warehouses of the e-Commerce firms such as Amazon, those in the ‘gig economy’, the self-employed and others in precarious employment, and those whose traditional forms of employment have been eroded by ‘globalisation’ and economic change?

This project will explore the origins of the new prominence given to ‘workplace stress’. How has this phenomenon arisen? What understandings of its causes underpin the current strategies of prevention? What strategies are being developed and how effective are they? How do these vary in different countries? How, if at all, are questions of workplace stress linked to more general arguments that entry into work is a key element in the recovery journey of those experiencing mental distress? And, more generally, how effectively do these ways of thinking and acting address the changing nature of work itself? What might be required to really create ‘mental health friendly’ workplaces?

This PhD project will undertake research on the origins and spread of the concern with workplace stress, place this in the context of the changing character of employment and career structures, identify and characterise the responses to it, including the rise and activities of workplace stress campaigning organizations, examine evidence on the efficacy of the different strategies involved, and undertake qualitative research in the UK with organizations and employees on the rational for, development and implementation of, and responses to strategies for combatting ‘workplace stress’.



Support and Participation in the Community for Persons with Mental Health Problems

Primary Supervisor: Dr Hanna Kienzler

Length: 1+3: student will complete a LISS DTP approved MSc (to be confirmed) including training in advanced quantitative and qualitative analysis to fully equip him/her to complete this project.

In compromised mental health, as physical health, people have the right to live in their communities. International evidence suggests this aspiration is not being met and cross-cultural data is urgently needed. The CRPD (article 19) demands support structures that ensure individuals can choose their place of residence; have access to in-home and community support services; and can use facilities for the general population. The aim of the project is to understand what it means for persons with mental health problems to live in the community in the UK.

Ethnographic and participatory methods will be combined to explore the diverse meanings, barriers and resources to aid resolving the tensions between protecting vulnerability and respecting independence and realizing the right to be included in the community in culturally meaningful ways.

Specifically, the objectives:

  • To explore how ‘independence’, ‘community’, and ‘support’ are conceptualised in the UK sociocultural context, legal documents and normative philosophical debates, and how such conceptualizations affect the lives of persons with mental health problems and their families.
  • To discover and understand the barriers and resources which impact on the ability of persons with mental health problems and their families to live as active citizens with equal respect in the community.
  • In conjunction with beneficiaries and civil society, to articulate the content of the rights associated with living in the community and the practical means of their realisation to enable future policy to better realize the conditions through which social integration may be possible.

Note: The project will be jointly supported by the Centre for Society and Mental Health and the Wellcome Trust funded project ‘Mental Health and Justice’ (Wellcome Trust Project 203376/Z/16/Z)

Hanna Kienzler is the Co-PI on the Mental Health and Justice project and leading work stream two “Support and Participation in the Community for Persons with Mental Health Problems”). Besides being embedded in the Centre, the student will also join a collaboration between researchers in Ghana and Palestine who tackle similar questions through ethnographic and participatory approaches.



Generational change: Are young people living more stressful lives with adverse impacts on mental health? Analysis of UK birth cohorts

Primary Supervisor: Dr Jay Das-Munshi

Length: 1+3: student will complete a LISS DTP approved MSc (to be confirmed) including training in advanced quantitative and qualitative analysis to fully equip him/her to complete this project.

Recently there has been much concern that the prevalence of depression, anxiety and self-harm has increased dramatically in young people in the UK. The UK birth cohorts each included approximately 17,000 babies born in a single week and followed up over childhood into adulthood. These cohorts were started in 1958, 1970 and in 2000, with the most recent cohort in 2000 over-sampling from ethnic minority families. As such, the birth cohorts offer a unique opportunity to critically assess whether the observed changes in prevalence could be a result of changes to risk factors for these conditions becoming more common and frequently experienced in children and young people growing up in Britain today whilst taking into account age,period and cohort effects.

In particular, this project will critically assess the contribution of: financial hardship and familial poverty, parental separation/divorce, reported bullying, educational difficulties and school exclusion, parental mental health problems and alcohol and substance misuse in children and young people to the emergence of common mental disorders in young people across the generations. The project will provide skills training in analysing large cohorts, harmonising measures, and advanced statistical analyses (for example in multiple imputation) and would suit a candidate with a strong quantitative background.



Multiple disadvantage, social exclusion and intersections with mental and physical health: Mixed methods study.

Primary Supervisor: Dr Jay Das-Munshi

Length: 1+3: student will complete a LISS DTP approved MSc (to be confirmed) including training in advanced quantitative and qualitative analysis to fully equip him/her to complete this project.

A growing body of work has indicated that certain groups may experience severe and extreme forms of multiple disadvantage which are deleterious to health. This proposal is for a mixed methods PhD project investigating the mental health of these populations, with a specific focus on groups known to experience forms of social exclusion, such as homelessness, contact with the criminal justice system and substance misuse. Social adversities may cluster in individuals and the interplay of this with mental disorders and adverse physical health remains unclear.

Whilst previous research has indicated that health outcomes follow a strong social gradient, how far multiply disadvantaged populations experiencing extreme forms of social exclusion ‘fall off’ the social gradient altogether, remains unclear. This project will focus on pathways to disadvantage, marginalisation and ill health in those who are multiply disadvantaged (for example, homeless populations) by utilising epidemiological data from national surveys (including the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys) and Electronic Health Records (the Clinical Record Interactive Search case register from South London & Maudsley Trust) as well as exploiting other possible sources of secondary data analysis. The student will also be supported to conduct qualitative research, where interviews with service providers (for example charities) and if possible people with lived experience of social exclusion are conducted.

This study will shed light on the pathways through which multiply disadvantaged populations experience health inequalities,particularly in this time of austerity. These aims strongly relate to the Centre for Society and Mental Health’s goals, including a relevant topic (health inequalities), theoretical basis (social theory) and methodology (mixed methods).



Social isolation from childhood to young adulthood: Identifying patterns of stability and change for a better understanding of later health and functioning

Primary Supervisor: Professor Louise Arseneault

Length: 1+3: student will complete a LISS DTP approved MSc (to be confirmed) including training in advanced quantitative and qualitative analysis to fully equip him/her to complete this project.

Although social isolation is recognised as a distressing experience, studies have yielded mixed findings regarding its longer-term implications for health and functioning. Relatively few of these studies have differentiated between chronic social isolation and more transient cases, which may partly account for this inconsistency. Isolated children who escape their circumstances reasonably quickly could be spared any deleterious outcomes, whereas those who are trapped in isolation throughout their school years may fare markedly worse in adulthood.

This project aims to investigate the association between social isolation and later outcomes by examining repeated measures of social isolation throughout childhood to identify chronic, transient and control groups. Group membership will be used to predict functional outcomes at age 18 in four domains: mental health, physical health-related behaviours, educational attainment and employment,and criminal offending. Where significant associations are found, co-twin control methods will be used to test whether social isolation constitutes an environmental risk factor for these outcomes,independent of genetic and other familial sources of confounding.We will use data from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study and will aim to replicate our findings using data from other longitudinal or cohort studies from the UK.

In this story

Hanna Kienzler_cropped

Professor of Global Health

Professor Nikolas Rose

Professor of Sociology

Professor Mauricio Avendano Pabon

Visiting Professor of Public Policy & Global Health

Craig Morgan

Professor of Social Epidemiology


Professor of Developmental Psychology