Queen’s University Belfast: Queen’s University part of new research initiative to help prevent psychosis in young people

The Psychosis Ireland Structured Training and Research Programme (PSI-STAR) is a cross-disciplinary PhD research training programme. It will be led by an All-Ireland team of clinicians and academics from the fields of psychiatry, nursing, social work, sociology and psychology, and importantly includes an academic with lived experience of psychosis.

The programme will train five PhD students who will go on to be leaders in the field of psychosis and make a positive impact on people’s lives.

The Queen’s project leads are Dr Ciaran Mulholland, Consultant Psychiatrist at Queen’s and the Impact Research Centre in the Northern Trust; Dr Ciaran Shannon, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Queen’s and Director of the Impact Research Centre in the Northern Trust; and Gavin Davidson, Professor of Social Care at Queen’s and Praxis Chair of Social Care.

Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, occur in about three in one hundred people and usually starts in adolescence or young adulthood, greatly disrupting a young person’s life in terms of education, social relationships and career outcomes. Because of the early age of onset and chronicity, these disorders have a devastating impact on young people and families.

The NI Youth Mental Health Study demonstrates that almost 19% of young people aged 11-19 years reported psychotic-like experiences, which suggests an increased risk of developing a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia. Only a small proportion of these individuals will develop a psychotic illness, and the PSI-STAR research programme is designed to both improve the ability to predict who will do so, and the ability to intervene early in the illness course to improve outcomes.

Dr Ciaran Mulholland, the Principal Investigator at Queen’s, explains: “It is important to identify young people in the early stages of psychosis (or even just before it begins) so that the best treatment and support can be offered without delay. This will greatly improve the chances of recovery and better long-term outcomes.

“We can do this by identifying young people who are at risk as well as predicting young people who may be at a greater risk of developing psychosis. Our collaborative Doctoral Award Programme – PSI-STAR – will address these issues.”

The research project based at Queen’s will be a participatory action project, which will involve researchers and participants working together to co-design and trial school-based intervention measures focused on distress associated with psychotic symptoms in young people.