Pioneering research into PTSD

Following a colleague’s battle with post-traumatic stress disorder, Carolina pledged to help ensure that those suffering from a similar condition would be able to receive the right help, at the right time.

Share Following a life-changing event, PhD student Carolina has pledged to help those suffering from PTSD Click To Tweet Find out about how Carolina's ground-breaking research could change lives Click To Tweet Thanks to her donor-funded Research Impact scholarship, Carolina is leading the way in helping those suffering from PTSD Click To Tweet

Carolina Campodonico was volunteering with the Italian Red Cross ambulance service when her team received the call that would change her life.

“In my team of twelve people, there are three ambulances. We received a call and four members of my team, not including myself, went out and visited a very bad accident.

“A family’s car had hit a Mercedes on a bridge. In the family’s car was a father (who had just lost his wife because of cancer) and two children. The children were thrown out of the car and were severely injured.

“One of my teammates had daughters of a similar age to the children in the accident and he stayed with them until more help arrived. Unfortunately nothing could be done.

“The accident really affected him. Shortly afterwards, he started suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He contacted the central office of the Red Cross to see if they could offer support. They said the only option was to send someone from Rome to help him but that would take more than a month – I was so frustrated. Eventually my teammate sought private help but I couldn’t shake off how annoyed I was that there was no immediate help available for volunteers like us. So I thought what I always think: if there is no one doing it then I will!

“I remember this moment because it was the first time I thought ‘OK, I’m going to leave Italy and do something important.’”

A perfect combination

Carolina travelled to Norway to complete a PhD course in Risk Perception and Risk Communication as part of a six month study trip.  Motivated by this experience and the time spent with the Red Cross, she decided to gain further understanding in a field that would lead to her being better-equipped to help those like her colleague at Red Cross who are suffering from PTSD.

“While I was in Norway I came to the point where I thought ‘I really want to have an impact on the world’. My education in Psychology can help with this but that would be more of a one-to-one approach and I wanted my impact to be much wider. I found out there was a master’s in International Disaster Management which I thought would be amazing combined with Psychology.”

At the time, Manchester was one of only two universities in Europe which taught the subject, and was where Carolina chose to study her second master’s.

Once Carolina completed her master’s here, she combined these two subjects and decided to do a PhD that researches mental trauma in people with psychosis.

Preventing PTSD

PTSD does not only occur after traumatic real-world experiences, but can also affect people who suffer from psychosis.

“It has recently been proven that psychosis is so distressing that it can cause PTSD, or PRPTSD (psychosis related post-traumatic stress disorder). One out of two people who experience a psychotic episode then develop symptoms of PTSD.”

These symptoms can be severe and debilitating and can have long-term and lasting effects on people who suffer from them.

“So I thought: 50% of people who experience a psychotic episode go on to suffer PRPTSD, but 50% do not. Why is that?

Carolina is working on a longitudinal study that involves conducting a baseline assessment at the beginning, during and at the end of her study, and she is investigating the development of traumatic symptoms within the same original participants.

Normally, a longitudinal study only focuses on the outcome but Carolina wants to also examine the process that leads to the outcome in the hope that, using her research, it will be possible to create interventions that enhance the factors that help prevent PTSD.

“We have never studied what happens in the middle period, and why some people develop and why some people don’t develop PTSD. Why do we just want to look at the outcome when we can look at the trajectory? Maybe someone with a positive trajectory has been very sick or had a lot of traumatic symptoms until the fifth month, then something happens and then there is a positive outcome in the sixth month, and all the information in the middle is lost.

“With this in mind, we are going to assess patients on their first episode of psychosis and then once every two months, observe the trajectory of their symptoms and determine which factors are connected with which trajectory.”

Carolina hopes that her research will ultimately identify which factors lead to more positive outcomes (for example the reduction of PTSD symptoms) so that it will be possible to work on those factors  to prevent or reduce the traumatic symptoms caused by psychosis.

Research Impact Scholarship

Carolina’s research is just one of the many exciting PhD projects that are funded by the University’s generous donors. The Research Impact Programme specifically supports PhD students whose research has great potential to impact on many people’s lives and it ensures that talented individuals like Carolina have the help they need to achieve great things.

“After I completed my second master’s, I knew that the only way to reach my goal was through a PhD, but I desperately needed a scholarship and there was none I could apply for. If it wasn’t for the donors who funded my scholarship, I wouldn’t be here, plain and simple.

“I really believe that whatever I achieve in this career, it will be the donors’ achievement as well because, without them, it wouldn’t have been possible. So, hopefully I’m going to do something amazing, change the world, and the donors will be a part of it!”

 

At The University of Manchester, we endeavour to achieve research of the highest quality, to support and develop excellent people, and to have an impact beyond academia which yields economic, social and cultural benefits. We are also committed to ensuring that students can access a world-class education irrespective of their background or personal situation.

The donor-funded Research Impact programme combines these two goals perfectly. It provides scholarships for researchers so that they have the necessary funding to be able to carry out ground-breaking research that is aligned to one of the University’s research priorities.

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