Psychological Medicine

Health Related Quality of Life in Children Born Very Preterm

Supervisor

Associate Professor Trecia Wouldes
Distinguished Professor Jane Harding

Discipline

Psychological Medicine

Project code: MHS105

Premature birth is characterised by physical and neurological immaturity that can have a negative impact on several biological systems. Therefore, individuals born preterm may have ongoing health problems and/or developmental delays throughout the lifespan. Of equal importance is the health related quality of life (HRQoL) of these children. The Protein Insulin And Neonatal Outcomes (PIANO) Study is a follow up study of children at age 7 who were part of a randomised controlled (RCT) study of children born very preterm (<30 weeks gestation or <1500 grams birth weight). At the 7 year follow up HRQoL was obtained from parent reports.

The student who participates in this study will learn about the risks of being born preterm and how that may effect their HRQoL in middle childhood.

The student will be expected to write a review of the current evidence around the relationship between preterm birth and HRQoL, describe the results of the parental report, and write up the results for publication. This study was carried out by researchers at the Liggins Institute.

Social Media and Establishing Peer Relationships in Migrant Adolescents

Supervisor

Associate Professor Trecia Wouldes
Dr Suzanne Stevens

Discipline

Psychological Medicine

Project code: MHS107

Establishing peer relationships during adolescence is one of the most important developmental tasks, and one that can be seriously disrupted when adolescents move from one country or location to another. However, with the rise in the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Snapchat over the last decade, developing and maintaining peer relationships has changed. To date most of the research on the use of social media in young people has focused on negative consequences such as cyberbullying, overlooking the positive potential of these social networking media to maintain, advance and develop new peer relationships. A recent study has shown that online engagement through social media can be positive and constructive for young people often reflecting similar behaviours adolescents use offline to establish and maintain relationships. No research to date has explored the opportunities that social media may present to adolescents who have migrated to NZ in maintaining and developing peer relationships.

Involvement in this study will include interviewing adolescents who have migrated to NZ on how they use social media to maintain, advance and develop new peer relationships and completing a literature review of the evidence for positive and constructive use of social media.

Understanding the scope of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry referrals in a general hospital setting

Supervisor

Dr Frederick Sundram
Dr Mythili Jayasundaram

Discipline

Psychological Medicine

Project code: MHS040

There is significant comorbidity between mental and physical illnesses in general hospitals which impacts on recovery, outcomes and healthcare expenditure. Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry services provide psychological guidance and support of medical ward teams in the care of patients with mental health needs and see patients who often have a variety of presentations that occur alongside their physical illness e.g. delirium, dementia, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, difficulties coping with a chronic illness, neuropsychiatric disorder, etc.

The Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry service at Waitemata DHB covers 2 campuses – North Shore and Waitakere Hospitals whereby assessments are undertaken at the Emergency Department and wards of these hospitals. The service also receives referrals for outpatient assessments.

This summer studentship offers a unique opportunity to assess referrals to the Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry service and pathways of care. The analysis of of study will not only contribute to enhancement of service delivery and improved rates of recovery but also future publication.


Skills:
Viewing and accessing medical record data
Extracting relevant data from medical records
Storage of details on a database
Understanding patient journeys and flows within the healthcare system
Developing a clear report on referral patterns and outcomes
Presentation at various local meetings and conferences
Publication of report

Validation of an App-friendly Parenting Questionnaire

Supervisor

Dr Rebecca Slykerman
Assoc Prof Sarah Hetrick

Discipline

Psychological Medicine

Project code: MHS075

Although many parenting questionnaires exist to measure effectiveness of interventions many of these are lengthy. As apps designed to help parents in their parenting become increasingly popular there is a need for an “app friendly” questionnaire that is short, can be used on a smartphone screen and is effective in detecting change.
We are currently running an open trial of a parenting app called Play Kindly, which has been designed for New Zealand born Pacific parents with preschool children. As part of this project we want to evaluate whether 10 parenting questions altered to be more app-friendly are a valid measure of parenting relationship and competence.
This project will involve entering the responses for, and then analysing the data from 20-30 parents who complete the Parenting Sense of Competence Scale (PSOC) and the newly designed Mobile App Parenting Scale (MAPS) as part of their participation in the Play Kindly Open Trial. Parents will complete these measures both before and after they engage in the parenting intervention (the Play Kindly app). The analysis of the data will focus on whether the questions in the newly designed Mobile App Parenting Scale (MAPS) can be validated against the PSOC, which is an already an established questionnaire.

The advantages of this project are that data will have already been collected, it will provide a valuable experience in the broader areas of research methods, statistics and e-health, and that we plan to publish the results of this validation study.

Skills in basic statistics and use of statistical software packages would be an advantage.

Perfectionism and self-compassion among high school boys in New Zealand

Supervisor

Dr Tony Fernando
Prof Nathan Consedine

Discipline

Psychological Medicine

Project code: MHS118

Background
Issues such as youth suicide, bullying, depression and anxiety are prevalent among New Zealand youth. Viewed in the context of increasing pressure and competitiveness, one possible contributor to these phenomena are the purportedly high rates of perfectionism and a lack of self-compassion (self-kindness) in youth. However, little is known regarding how perfectionism and self-compassion may be relevant to mental and physical health in these populations. Our research group, in collaboration with academics from the University of Queensland, plan to launch a survey of thousands of under 18 year old school boys in NZ. The selected summer research student will have the opportunity to be involved from the earliest aspects of the study - from design and conceptualization, development of the ethics application and survey instrument, through to recruitment and data collection. There is the possibility of involving the student in the early stages of data analysis, writing, and publication of this important research.

Aim
To examine the associations perfectionism and self-compassion have with negative mental and physical health outcomes in male youth.

Skills Developed
1) Reviewing relevant literature
2) Designing a large-scale study
3) Liaising with various collaborators from academics, teachers and headmasters
4) Analysing data
5) Writing scientific reports
6) Presenting research results

Who is this project suited to?
We are looking for a student who is 1) independent minded 2) self-driven 3) organized and reliable 4) comfortable with configuring Survey Monkey 5) writes well 6) knows when to seek help. Added qualities that can enhance your application 1) light-hearted 2) can handle irreverent jokes within the research group (in other words, thick skinned) 3) will not be intimidated dealing with headmasters and principals 4) loves eating 5) understands statistics.

Perks of being in our group: we are a crazy, funny bunch (at least we think we are); you will not be micromanaged (assuming you are delivering); you get to meet other summer research students, Masters and PhD students; we tend to invite our research students in research publications

Criminal sexual behaviours whilst asleep in New Zealand and Australia

Supervisor

Dr Tony Fernando
Susan Hatters-Friedman

Discipline

Psychological Medicine

Project code: MHS165

Background
Parasomnias are undesirable behavioural, physiological or experiential events that occur whilst asleep. They are common in the general population, and more frequent in children. These are phenomena that arise as the brain transitions between various sleep stages and wakefulness.

Parasomnias including sleep terror, sleep walking and sleep talking are known, well recognised sleep conditions even by the public. Less recognised parasomnias include complex behaviours like cooking, driving and eating whilst asleep.

A variation of parasomnias, sexual behaviours whilst asleep or “sexsomnias” have been documented only in the past 20 years. Though mostly benign and not causing harm, sleep sex or sexsomnia has been implicated in several criminal cases in the NZ and Australian judiciary.

Aim
To examine the existing NZ and Australian legal databases regarding cases involving parasomnias in general, as well as cases using sexsomnia as a defence.

Skills Developed
1) Reviewing relevant literature (medical and legal)
2) Liaising with various collaborators from medical academics, forensic psychiatrists, academic lawyers and judges
3) Writing a scientific report
4) Presenting research results
5) Publishing a manuscript in a medical or law journal in NZ or Australia in 2019

Who is this project suited to?

We are looking for a student who is 1) independent minded 2) self-driven 3) organized and reliable 4) writes well 5) knows when to seek help. Added qualities that can enhance your application 1) light-hearted 2) can handle irreverent jokes within the research group (in other words, thick skinned) 3) loves eating.

Improving machine learning models for healthcare robots

Supervisor

Elizabeth Broadbent
Ho Seok Ahn, Bruce MacDonald

Discipline

Psychological Medicine

Project code: MHS195

Robots for healthcare applications are designed to perform tasks such as reminding people to take medications and perform exercises. To deliver effective support, robots need to be engaging and aware of a person’s context and environment.
A context aware robot needs to be able to sense its environment, learn, reason and communicate with humans. Sensor data inputs are required to train a machine learning model to predict simple activities. In this project, different sensor inputs such as an individual’s facial expressions, gait, physical activities, movement, posture, mental health/state, the weather, diet, medication, sequence of daily activities, voice, use of the robot/device will be defined and sample data captured for a chosen scenario.
The data will be used to explore parameters for creating a proof of concept/prototype machine learning engine capable of predicting simple activities.

We are looking for a student with an interest in psychology, human robot interaction and willingness to work with an interdisciplinary team.

National survey of prescribing for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Supervisor

Hiran Thabrew
Stephanie Moor, Matthew Eggleston

Discipline

Psychological Medicine

Project code: MHS108

Background of the project: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 66 New Zealanders; around 65,000 people. Children and adolescents with ASD have markedly higher rates of psychiatric disorder and although the mainstays of treatment are supportive, educational and behavioural approaches, a number of medications may significantly reduce target symptoms and improve comorbid conditions. Medications for ASD have been developed for and tested in adults but are being used in children and adolescents despite little trial evidence to provide advice on effectiveness and safety. Studies involving children and adolescents are slow to take place, numbers included in studies are small and prescription of many agents for children with ASD are therefore often ‘off-label’. In NZ, although there are guidelines for pharmacological treatments in the (ref: https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/new-zealand-autism-spectrum-disorder-guideline), the range and extent of use of medications used locally are not known.

Aims of the project: Our study aims to survey all (roughly 70) child psychiatrists in NZ with their recent ASD patients and collate this information to produce an up to date snapshot of current prescribing practices for children with ASD. These results will inform an update of a national best practice prescribing guideline, assisting clinicians to provide families with better evidence-informed care. The results of this study will be written up in an eminent psychiatric journal and presented at both the annual NZ child psychiatry conference in Turangi in March 2019 and at a one day national conference on ASD in NZ. In addition, this project will be the foundation ‘proof of concept’ project for a new clinical research network for child psychiatry in NZ. This network aims to improve national research collaboration and to use locally researched and culturally appropriate measures to support the development of relevant models of care to improve outcomes for children in NZ.

Project description: The successful applicant will experience being part of an academic department and learn about working with a multidisciplinary research team . They will be supported to conduct a literature search on prescribing in ASD. They will then be assisted to design a questionnaire, set it up online, manage a database of results, use of a statistical programme for analysis and prepare a manuscript and presentation of their findings. The student will be a listed author on all research publications and presentations related to this study. The student will be able to complete much of the work in a flexible manner from the university, home or other locations. Daily support will be provided during key phases of work and weekly project team meetings will be undertaken to monitor progress. The student will be supervised by Dr Hiran Thabrew, Child Psychiatrist, Paediatrician and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Auckland.

The ick factor: how do we reduce the avoidance-promoting effects of emotions in physical health?

Supervisor

Nathan Consedine

Discipline

Psychological Medicine

Project code: MHS149

Avoidance pervades healthcare. From time to time, people avoid virtually everything in health – symptoms, examinations, treatments, and side effects – typically to their detriment. Evidence is increasingly demonstrating that emotions are centrally implicated in the processes by which avoid occurs.

Scientifically, however, almost nothing is known about how to reduce the experience of emotions that motivate avoidance. With mixed success, prior studies in clinical psychology have tried habituation while other paradigms have tried to teach people to “think about things differently,” again, with mixed success. The current study seeks to further understanding in this key area by testing a novel behavioural intervention designed to reduce the effects of avoidance-promoting emotion in health.

The proposed Summer Studentship will implement an experimental design to investigate how a novel behavioural treatment targeting emotions can decrease avoidance in health. Healthy volunteers will be recruited to complete baseline measures assessing a variety of psychological constructs, including emotions. Participants will then attend a brief laboratory session that tests the effects of the intervention on decision making and avoidance. Analysis of the data will provide insight into the processes by which emotions contribute to avoidance and how it might be stopped.

Objective:
Experimentally evaluate the impact of a novel behavioural intervention designed to reduce emotionally-driven avoidance in health.

Student Skill Development:
1. Literature searching and review.
2. Participant recruitment and consenting.
3. Implementation of clinical-experimental research paradigms in the laboratory
4. Understanding of the impact emotions can have on avoidance in health
5. Work as part of active research team involving faculty and doctoral students
6. Drafting of research articles and/or conference abstract submissions

Understanding school guidance counsellor's experience and needs around working with young people who engage in self-harm

Supervisor

Sarah Hetrick
Linda Bowden

Discipline

Psychological Medicine

Project code: MHS048

Self-harm in adolescents is prevalent with around 1 in five young New Zealanders reporting self-harm in a recent study. School guidance counsellors are managing an increasing number of these young people, and increasingly young people are engaging in self-harm on school grounds. While there are various guidelines available, there is currently no guidelines that specifically address how school guidance counsellors might manage a young person who is self-harming, particularly in the school context. The aim of this study is to undertake an qualitative and exploratory piece of work, the results of which will ultimately feed into guidelines for school guidance counsellors. The student will be require, with support, to interview approximately 10 school guidance counsellors, transcribe the recorded interviews, and assist with the qualitative analysis of this data. The student will be expected to assist with the write-up of the research, with the opportunity to be named as a co-author on any publication from the work.