Research themes

Our research studies are linked to our research themes. They're the different areas where we carry out our research. Each theme is led by a theme leader, who has links with our local universities and Sussex Partnership. 

Click on the links below for further details about our research themes.

Theme lead

Dr Sam Robertson, Lead for Service User and Carer Involvement at Sussex Partnership and Chair of the Lived Experience Advisory Forum (LEAF).

The Approaches to Involvement and Recovery theme aims to deliver and develop research focused on the involvement of lived experience experts in mental health research. 

We believe that no research study in the NHS should be funded without a patient involvement component - please contact us for further details.
Areas of interest

Mental health recovery research

  • Research into mental health service provision that involves service users, carers, peers and staff
  • Using innovative ways to reach out to all parts of the community, particularly underrepresented groups: Our Patient Participation and Involvement café, runs in physical and virtual formats to connect and chat about research
  • The impact of involvement.

Research projects

  • Peer Emotional Labour (PEL) looking at the emotional labour of involvement and recovery. Read about the Applied Research Collaboration Kent, Surrey and Sussex Individual Development Award which supported this PEL research.
  • The OUTSIDE study looking at outdoor swimming as a nature-based intervention for depression. See more here
  • ENRICH is a project which evaluated whether peer support workers are helpful for people being discharged from hospital. Service users, carers, peers and staff were the researchers in this project
  • The LETS project asked participants to share their experiences of taking part in research. Reasons for taking part were for a sense of hope, identity, meaning, empowerment and connectedness
  • INDEED is a project within the Time for Dementia study where we use film as a memory aid for participants to recall their sessions.

Key publications

The Youth Patient and Public Involvement Café

  • Abigail Thomson MSc, Edward Peasgood, Sam Robertson PhD
  • Published September 2022

A youth-led model for meaningful involvement with children and young people.

This open access paper is written by a team of young people who developed and worked on the Youth PPI Café over a period of 18 months. They reflected on their experiences, providing examples of how youth involvement and co-production could be effectively delivered in practice.

By working 'with' young people, rather than 'for' them, we offer insights into the successes and challenges of an entirely youth‐led involvement space, for research, and for young people, e.g. skills development, tokenism, resourcing and diversity and inclusion.


Using lived experience to develop a personal narrative workshop programme in order to aid mental health recovery 

Samantha Robertson, Diane Carpenter, Maggie Donovan-Hall and Ruth Bartlett

Published online: October 2019


Contact

Sam.Robertson@spft.nhs.uk
involvementinresearch@spft.nhs.uk

Theme leads

Professor Hugo Critchley

Consultant Psychiatrist, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.  Lead for the Neurobehavioural Clinic (His specialist clinical service evaluates neurodevelopmental conditions in adults). Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science; Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS). Head of the Department of Neuroscience, BSMS.

Dr Alessandro Colasanti

Lead for the Immunopsychiatry Clinic. Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry, Brighton and Sussex Medical School

Areas of interest

The Brain and Body research explores the links between physical and mental health such as:

  • The relationship between hypermobility and mental health, particularly anxiety
  • Applying insights from immunopsychiatry to better understand ME and chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Looking at why the insular system is hyperactive in people with Tourette's
  • Interoceptive awareness (consciousness of internal bodily state)
  • Role of brain mitochondrial function and oxygen metabolism in the pathophysiology of mood disorders
  • Imaging of neuroinflammation and Immunopsychiatry research
  • PET studies on brain endogenous opioids.

The theme is a working collaboration with the University of Sussex and Brighton and Sussex Medical School. 

Theme objectives

Researchers within the Brain and Body theme are working on a range of studies exploring the way mind and body are dynamically linked and hope that by understanding these relationships, better, targeted and personalised treatments can be developed

The theme seeks to explore new advances in neuropharmacology and the treatment of neurobehavioural problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and autism. By seeking to understand the causes of severe and disabling brain disorders they aim to improve clinical care by developing new and better ways to treat them. 

Research

ADIE - Breaking the link between autism and anxiety. ADIE is a £1m-funded study by MQ. Researchers led by Prof Critchley are looking at if a new psychological therapy could reduce the number of people with high-functioning autism from going on to develop an anxiety disorder.

ADAPT- looking at a new therapeutic intervention for anxiety in hypermobility.

Cap-Mem - exploring the cause and prevalence of memory problems

Role of interoception in Multiple Sclerosis fatigue

LQD - comparing the clinical and cost-effectiveness of Lithium and Quetiapine for treatment-resistant depression.

OxyBipolar - combining pharmacology and novel neuroimaging techniques in patients with treatment-resistant bipolar disorder, this study aims to investigate the effects of Methylene Blue (an antioxidant drug with neuroprotective properties) on brain biogenetics and brain oxygen metabolism.

Immune cells in the brain (microglia) are known to be overactive in some people with depression. Using PET scans, we are measuring how microglial cells respond when they are triggered by an immune response in the body.

Associated weblinks

Key publications

Discrepancies between dimensions of interoception in Autism: Implications for emotion and anxiety. Garfinkel SN, Tilly C, O’Keeffe S, Harrison NA, Seth AK, Critchley HD. Biological Psychology 2016 114:117-26.


Threat and the body: how the heart supports fear processing. Garfinkel SN, Critchley HD. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2016 20:34-46.


Knowing your own heart: Distinguishing interoceptive accuracy from interoceptive awareness. Garfinkel SN, Seth AK, Barrett AB, Suzuki K Critchley HD Biological Psychology 2015; 104:65-74.


Visceral influences on brain and behaviour. Critchley HD Harrison NA. Neuron 2013 77:624-38.


Inflammation causes mood change through alterations in subgenual cingulate activity and mesolimbic connectivity. Harrison NA, Brydon L, Walker C, Gray MA, Steptoe A, Critchley HD. Biol.  Psychiatry 2009 66:407-14.


Neuroinflammation and its relationship to changes in brain volume and whitematter lesions in multiple sclerosis.


Datta G, Colasanti A, Rabiner EA, Gunn RN, Malik O, Ciccarelli O, Nicholas R, Van Vlierberghe E, Van Hecke W, Searle G, Santos-Ribeiro A, Matthews PM. Brain. 2017 Nov 1;140(11):2927-2938. 


Carving depression at its joints? Young AH, Colasanti A. World Psychiatry.2016 Oct;15(3):239-241. 


Hippocampal Neuroinflammation, Functional Connectivity, and Depressive Symptoms in Multiple Sclerosis. Colasanti A, Guo Q, Giannetti P, Wall MB, Newbould RD, Bishop C, Onega M,Nicholas R, Ciccarelli O, Muraro PA, Malik O, Owen DR, Young AH, Gunn RN, PicciniP, Matthews PM, Rabiner EA. Biol Psychiatry.2016 Jul 1;80(1):62-72. 


     Contact details

Professor Critchley leads the Neurobehavioural Clinic. 

Email: neurobehavioural.clinic@spft.nhs.uk

Dr Colasanti leads the Immunopsychiatry Clinic

Email: immunopsychiatryclinic@spft.nhs.uk

 

Theme lead

Mary John, Consultant Psychologist Sussex Partnership, Head of School of Psychology, University of Surrey.

This theme explores all aspects of mental health for children and young people. The theme is a working collaboration with University of Sussex. Mary's research interests have become focussed on the impact of adversity on young people and how we understand the development of self- identity, including wellbeing, resilience or psychological distress. 

Research projects

  • Developing a mindfulness app for young people. Collaboration with Prof Robin Banerjee, Sussex University
  • Development of a recovery measure for young people. 

Key publications

Development of measures to assess personal recovery in young people treated in specialist mental health services
John M, Jeffries F, Acuña-Rivera M, Warren F, Simonds L. (2014)

Contact

M.John@surrey.ac.uk

Theme lead

Prof Naji Tabet, Reader in Old Age Psychiatry (Neuroscience and Imaging) Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Director of the Centre for Dementia studies.

Lead for the Living Well with Dementia research theme, Applied Research Collaboration Kent, Surrey and Sussex (ARCKSS).

The Dementia and Older People’s Mental Health theme includes several studies exploring the issues of old age including clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease. Research areas include immunological and biochemical markers in dementia; non-pharmacological and lifestyle interventions in dementia disorders. The theme is a working collaboration with University of Sussex, Brighton and Sussex Medical School and University of Brighton.

Theme objectives

Dementia research is important because it's only through research that underlying causes and living with the disease can be fully understood. We aim to find treatments that help people to live well with dementia.

Research projects

Time for Dementia is an educational programme which is built on a teaching approach for understanding long-term conditions, in this case, dementia. It aims to improve the knowledge, understanding, attitudes and behaviour towards dementia in trainee healthcare professionals. It does this by pairing students with people with dementia (and their carers) for visits over a period of three years so they can gain a genuine understanding of life with dementia, which they can take forward with them in their healthcare careers. This programme is being evaluated, with student and family outcomes being measured and can also be rolled out for other conditions.

PhysiQOL assesses the impact of lifestyle factors, such as physical activity, on the quality of life of people with dementia.

FREE-COG is a project which has produced a validated copyright-free (cost-effective) cognitive testing tool for healthcare settings.

Measuring Carer Quality of Life (C-DEMQOL) - Development of a questionnaire that can be used by researchers and clinicians to gain a greater understanding of the quality of life of carers of people with dementia.

We also host several commercial (drug) trials at our Dementia Research Unit.

Key publications

Understanding the quality of life of family carers of people with dementia: development of a new conceptual framework. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry

Daley S, Murray J, Farina N, Page TE, Brown A, Bassett T, Livingston G, Bowling A, Knapp M and Banerjee Sube (2018)


Use of physical activity questionnaires in people with dementia: a scoping review. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity

Farina N, Hughes L, Watts A and Lowry R (2018)


Are symptoms of insomnia in primary care associated with subsequent onset of dementia?

Hoile R , Tabet N, Smith H, Bremner S, Cassell J & Ford E.


Homocysteine concentrations in the cognitive progression of Alzheimer's disease

Farina N, Jernerén F, Turner C, Hart K, Tabet N.


Herpes simplex encephalitis and Alzheimer's disease: Is there a link? 

Itzhaki RF, Tabet N.


Putting attention in the spotlight: The influence of APOE genotype on visual search in mid adulthood

Lancaster C, Forster S, Tabet N, Rusted J.


Is Sleep Disruption a Risk Factor for Alzheimer's Disease? 

Macedo AC, Balouch S, Tabet N.


Contact

N.Tabet@bsms.ac.uk
DementiaResearchUnit@spft.nhs.uk

Theme lead

Dr Jane McCarthy, Consultant Clinical Psychiatrist/Lead Psychiatrist for Learning Disability Services, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

The Learning Disability research theme is part of the Learning Disability and Neurobehavioral Clinical Academic Group (CAG), which bring together experts by experience, clinicians and researchers to ensure that the treatment we provide is based on evidence and is as effective as possible. The Learning Disability and Neurobehavioral Clinical Academic Group has developed the following care pathways: 

  • Complex physical health
  • Autism
  • Mental health
  • Behavioural support
  • Dementia.

Theme objectives

The Learning Disability theme has a very broad remit that encompasses a wide range of potential studies with a focus on the experiences of service users, their families and co-production to improve the lives of people with learning disability.

Research projects

The following topics are currently part of the research theme:

  • Exploring views of family and paid carers and adults with intellectual disabilities about their experience of occupational therapy using sensory integration-informed approaches
  • Implementing the Eating and Drinking Ability Classification System (EDACS) across health and social care settings for adults with cerebral palsy to improve shared decision-making and eating and drinking outcomes
  • How do Speech and Language Therapists develop their practice? - An autoethnographic enquiry, using thematic analysis to identify common themes of practice development approaches
  • Audit of ADHD clinic within East Sussex Neurodevelopmental Service 
  • A focus group to gain qualitative feedback from family carers of service users of the West Sussex Learning Disability Enhanced Support Service
  • Feeling at Home - Promoting homelike environments for people with intellectual disabilities living in group homes 
  • BAME service user evaluation
  • Co-producing recovery college courses with people with intellectual disabilities.
  • Pass-it-on, Recover and Thrive (working title)
  • Neurodivergent Brain Body Research Clinic
  • Altering Dynamics of Autonomic Processing Therapy (ADAPT)

Researchers:

  • Helen Justice, Occupational Therapy
  • Christine Goodban & Anne Walker, Speech and Language Therapy
  • Rebecca Simmons, Nursing
  • Becky Cooper & Tony Levitan, Psychology
  • Jessica Eccles, Psychiatry

Useful links

Contact

Jane.McCarthy@spft.nhs.uk 

Theme lead

Prof Clara Strauss, Assistant Director Research & Development, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Honorary Senior Lecturer (Psychology, Mental Health Practice (University of Sussex) and Research Lead, Sussex Mindfulness Centre.

Mood and Anxiety Research in Sussex (MARS) is a working collaboration between Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, University of Sussex and Brighton and Sussex Medical School. 

This research theme includes research looking at the role of mood in mental health and wellbeing. It encompasses research into a variety of mental health conditions, including bipolar, affective and anxiety conditions. The types of studies possible within the theme include investigations into assessment methods, the development and evaluation of interventions, service user and carer experience and involvement, and the development of theory relevant to any of the above conditions. 

Theme objectives

  • Facilitating collaboration between University of Sussex, BSMS and SPFT researchers interested in mood and anxiety research
  • Increasing the number of high quality, funded mood and anxiety research studies
  • Translating research into practice and training, through collaboration with clinicians and service users interested in research. The MARS Clinical Academic Group (CAG) works to recommend evidence-based care and interventions for mood and anxiety conditions and has developed a menu of evidence-based options for OCD, bipolar disorder and depression.
  • Raising the profile of mood research in Sussex, by increasing the number of peer-reviewed publications in mood and anxiety research. 

Research projects

  • Outside open-air swimming study for depression (Prof Clara Strauss)
  • Lightmind: self-help support for depression (Dr Clara Strauss)
  • A feasibility study of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy adapted for OCD (Mind4OCD) (Dr Clara Strauss)
  • Cardiac control of fear in the brain (BraveHeart) (Professor Hugo Critchley)
  • Mindfulness-based interventions for people diagnosed with 'Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder' (Alison Roberts)
  • Developing and validating a new measure of compassion (Jenny Gu)
  • The Restless Mind: Default mode of operation or risk factor for health (Professor Hugo Critchley)

Useful links

Key publications

Approaching Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Generalised Anxiety Disorder from a cognitive process perspective
Colette R. Hirsch, Sarah Beale, Nick Grey and Sheena Liness 


Knowing your own heart: Distinguishing interoceptive accuracy from interoceptive awareness
Garfinkel SN, Seth AK, Barrett AB, Suzuki K Critchley 


Contact 

clara.strauss@nhs.net
mars@sussex.ac.uk

Theme leads

Dr Claire Warrington, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Surrey

Theme principles 

  • Patience 
  • Empathy 
  • Collaboration 
  • Compassion 

The vision of the Personality, Emergency Mental Health Care and Complexity theme is to develop programs of research that enhance the quality of life of people with life-long psychological struggles. For example, people in crisis and people with needs that are complex (either due to issues of comorbidity, because of the context in which they occur, or because at present psychological treatment outcomes are poor, such as those with anorexia nervosa). 

Lived Experience Theme Group 

At the core of our research is the focus on lived experience. Our Lived Experience Theme Group are fundamental to our approach. Our Theme Group is made up of people whose lived experience relates to the different areas of our work. The group meet at regular intervals to advise on new and existing studies.

"Being a part of the PECC Group has given me confidence, as well as the chance to increase my knowledge of research, the work of the Trust and other mental health conditions and allowed me to put my own experiences to good use."                         

PECC Theme Group Member

**We are currently seeking new members, if you are interested in joining this group or finding out more about it, please email involvementinresearch@spft.nhs.uk 

Theme objectives

  • Enhancing and evaluating interventions in forming relationships and managing intense emotions 
  • Suicide prevention and alternatives to Section 136 (police) detention 
  • Involvement of services/other agencies in providing emergency care 
  • Enhancing our knowledge of the needs of people with anorexia nervosa and improving psychological interventions to help them 
  • Highlighting the needs of parents in the context of parental mental illness and devising adequate support packages 

Research and Innovation within the PECC Theme

Specialist Psychotherapy with Emotion for Anorexia in Kent and Sussex (SPEAKS NIHR Feasibility Study). Dr Anna Oldershaw, Dr Helen Startup and Prof Tony Lavender are testing an intervention designed to target difficulties in managing emotion in those with Anorexia Nervosa. Participants will be recruited from specialist eating disorder services in Kent and Sussex

Links between repeated detention and unaddressed trauma (ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship). Dr Claire Warrington's Wellcome Trust funded PhD found that there are strong links between repeated detention and unaddressed trauma that is often labelled as 'personality disorder'. She is now exploring approaches that are trauma informed and put relationships at the centre to support people to reduce the frequency and severity of the crises that lead can to repeated detention.

Seeking the views of parents who struggle with emotional intensity (ESRC PhD Studentship). Abby Dunn is looking at the parenting experience, help-seeking and support provided to parents who have challenges with emotional intensity. 

Mindfulness Based Interventions for Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (ESRC PhD Studentship). Dr Alison Roberts is exploring the role of targeting emotional dysregulation via mindfulness for those with EUPD.

Sussex Partnership Eating Disorders Research Clinic launched in September 2020, co-Directed by Dr Helen Startup and Dr Nicola Gilbert. Work is needed to improve the targeting of ED interventions to provide a more effective treatment package for those with more complex and comorbid presentations. The clinic focuses on developing potential solutions that have the themes of being 1) timely and 2) targeted at their core.

Key publications

Heath, G. & Startup, H. (Eds) (2020). Creative Innovations in Schema Therapy: Advances and Innovation in Clinical Practice. Routledge.


Warrington, C. (2019). Repeated police mental health act detentions in England and Wales: Trauma and recurrent suicidality. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(23), 4786. 


Bendelow, G., Warrington, C. A., Jones, A., & Markham, S. (2019). Police detentions of ‘mentally disordered persons’: A multi-method investigation of Section 136 use in Sussex. Medicine, Science and the Law, 59(2), 95-103. 


McCusker, L., Turner, M. L., Pike, G., & Startup, H. (2018). Meaningful ways of understanding and measuring change for people with borderline personality disorder: a thematic analysis. Behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy, 46(5), 528-540.


Schmidt, U., Startup, H., Treasure, J. (2018) A Cognitive Interpersonal Therapy Workbook for Treating Anorexia Nervosa. The Maudsley Model, Routledge.


Petfield, L., Startup, H., Droscher, H., & Cartwright-Hatton, S. (2015). Parenting in mothers with borderline personality disorder and impact on child outcomes. Evidence-based mental health, 18(3), 67-75.


Contact

research@spft.nhs.uk or claire.warrington@surrey.ac.uk

Theme lead

Professor Kathy Greenwood, Professor of Psychology, University of Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust, Clinical Research Fellow & Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Chair of the Psychosis Clinical Academic Group and research lead for the Digital Board, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Our research aims to have direct implications for future client care and service delivery such as new or improved therapeutic interventions to help people who experience psychosis.

Theme objectives

SPRiG: a joint venture from the University of Sussex, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Brighton and Sussex Medical School. Our research group comprises mental health professionals, researchers, mental health service users, carers, and students. Our research explores understandings of the experience of psychosis. We aim to translate our research into meaningful health and well-being benefits for people who experience psychosis, their families and carers. We also aim to enhance knowledge and understandings of psychosis in the general public including young people, challenge stigma and promote positive attitudes towards help-seeking. 

Research projects

  • EYE-2: Large scale trial of a model to engage people in early intervention in psychosis services with the aim of improving services for people who have a first episode of psychosis so that more people want to stay with the service (following on from the EYE feasibility study which started in 2011) (Prof Kathy Greenwood).
  • PREFER: PATIENT PREFERENCES FOR VOICE-HEARING THERAPIES: This is a large national survey with patients who hear voices. We are asking patients to tell us about their therapy preferences (Prof Kathy Greenwood).
  • COVID-19 and Unusual Experiences: An online survey investigating the impact of COVID-19 on unusual experiences.
  • PRODIGY: Prevention of long-term social disability amongst young people with emerging psychological difficulties: A definitive randomised control trial of social recovery cognitive behavioural therapy (Prof David Fowler).
  • SlowMo: A digital therapy for people who fear harm from others (Prof Kathy Greenwood).
  • U&I: uptake and implementation of CBT for unusual distressing experiences (psychosis) (Prof Kathy Greenwood).
  • M4V: Mindfulness for Voices (M4V): Exploring the effectiveness of a psychological intervention that uses mindfulness meditation within group-based therapy to help people diagnosed with schizophrenia who hear voices. (Dr Leanne Bogen-Johnston).
  • STEPWISE: A four-year national study looking to help people who gain weight due to anti-psychotic medication.
  • C4C: Caring for carers (Dr Cassie Hazel)
  • UNICOrN: Unusual experiences and function in young people (Dr Abigail Wright)
  • Peoples' journeys with voice hearing over time (Dr Leanne Bogen-Johnston)
  • Vista: Voice-hearing in young people: distress factors and social relating (Aikaterini Rammou)

Key publications

See a full list of publications here


Brain Structural Correlates of Metacognition in First-Episode Psychosis 

10 Apr 2020Schizophrenia Bulletin46(3):552-561

Alkan E, Davies G, Greenwood K, Evans SLH


Increasing access to CBT for psychosis patients: A feasibility, randomised controlled trial evaluating brief, targeted CBT for distressing voices delivered by assistant psychologists (GiVE2)

1 Apr 2020Trials21(1)

Hayward M, Berry C, Cameron B, Arnold K, Berry K…9 more


Cognitive and metacognitive factors predict engagement in employment in individuals with first episode psychosis

1 Mar 2020 Schizophrenia Research: Cognition19

Wright AC, Mueser KT, McGurk SR, Fowler D, Greenwood KE


Structured lifestyle education for people with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and first-episode psychosis (STEPWISE): Randomised controlled trial

1 Feb 2019British Journal of Psychiatry214(2):63-73

Holt RIG, Gossage-Worrall R, Hind D, Bradburn MJ, McCrone P...22 more


Contact

We run fortnightly informal lab meetings to discuss key topics, new ideas and projects in psychosis research. We also run a monthly open seminar series for clinicians, service users, carers, academics and students. If you would be interested in joining us, get in touch via social media @sprigsussex or K.E.Greenwood@sussex.ac.uk.