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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Towards early identification and prevention of depression and suicidality in young people

Research environment

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 150 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

The project supervisors (based within the SBBS's Psychology Department [GM] and School of Medicine & Dentistry's Centre for Psychiatry [GH]) are leading experts in the interplay between biological and psychosocial risk factors for mental illness and neurodevelopmental conditions in large samples.

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

Project description

The goal of this project is to develop better ways to predict and prevent depression and suicide in young people. Young adulthood is a period of high risk for the emergence of these serious mental health issues, which are expected to be of even greater concern in the long-term aftermaths of COVID-19. Risk for depression and suicidality is particularly high in individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions (e.g., autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]), leading to suicide rates that are up to 10x higher in this population.

Averting (rather than treating) depression and suicidality would be possible if we were able to offer preventive strategies to individuals at high risk in childhood and adolescence, before these conditions emerge. Yet, previous efforts to identify at-risk individuals have largely focused on adults. Moreover, research to date has mainly focused on psychosocial risk factors (e.g., life adversities) and yielded limited success, despite evidence that depression and suicidality have both biological and psychosocial underpinnings. Integrating information from biological and psychosocial risk factors may thus be crucial to identify at-risk individuals early and ultimately prevent emergence of these devastating conditions.

Harnessing innovation from ‘big data’ approaches (machine learning, predictive modelling), the current project aims to improve our ability to identify adolescents at high risk for future depression and suicidality by combining biological and psychosocial risk factors. Among biological measures, electroencephalography (EEG) recordings of brain activity are non-invasive, cost-effective, portable and particularly well-suited for future translational applications. State-of-the-art EEG modelling approaches, combining millisecond precision with improved spatial localization, also provide a finer-grained characterisation of atypical brain activity and connectivity dynamics underlying psychiatric symptoms compared to traditional approaches.

We will use a wealth of existing psychosocial and EEG data from population-based samples and samples enriched for neurodevelopmental conditions that were followed over adolescence and young adulthood to monitor the emergence of depression and suicidality.

This novel project will inform strategies to identify youth who would benefit from prevention strategies prior to the emergence of depression and suicidality, with the potential to reduce the impact of these devastating conditions on individuals, families and society.


This studentship is open to students applying for China Scholarship Council funding. Queen Mary University of London has partnered with the China Scholarship Council (CSC) to offer a joint scholarship programme to enable Chinese students to study for a PhD programme at Queen Mary. Under the scheme, Queen Mary will provide scholarships to cover all tuition fees, whilst the CSC will provide living expenses for 4 years and one return flight ticket to successful applicants. 

Eligibility and applying

Applicants must:

  • Be Chinese students with a strong academic background.
  • Students must hold a PR Chinese passport.
  • Applicants can either be resident in China at the time of application or studying overseas. 
  • Students with prior experience of studying overseas (including in the UK) are eligible to apply. Chinese QMUL graduates/Masters’ students are therefore eligible for the scheme.

Please refer to the CSC website for full details on eligibility and conditions on the scholarship.

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with a first or upper-second class honours degree (or equivalent qualification) and a Master's degree in an area relevant to this multi-disciplinary project, including but not limited to psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, biostatistics, and bioengineering. Candidates with prior experience collecting or analysing brain data (especially EEG) or conducting advanced statistical analyses (eg, machine learning) are particularly encouraged to apply.

Applicants are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details.

The deadline for applications to Queen Mary is 30th January 2022. Applicants will need to complete an online application form by this date to be considered, including a CV, personal statement and qualifications. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for a formal interview by the project supervisor. Those who are successful in their application for our PhD programme will be issued with an offer letter which is conditional on securing a CSC scholarship (as well as any academic conditions still required to meet our entry requirements).

Once applicants have obtained their offer letter from Queen Mary they should then apply to CSC for the scholarship by the advertised deadline with the support of the project supervisor. For September 2022 entry, applicants must complete the CSC application on the CSC website between 10th March - 31st March 2022.

Only applicants who are successful in their application to CSC can be issued an unconditional offer and enrol on our PhD programme.

Apply Online


  • Michelini, G., Perlman, G., Tian, Y., Mackin, D. M., Nelson, B. D., Klein, D. N., & Kotov, R. (2021). Multiple domains of risk factors for first onset of depression in adolescent girls. Journal of affective disorders, 283, 20–29.
  • Michelini, G., Jurgiel, J., Bakolis, I., Cheung, C., Asherson, P., Loo, S. K., Kuntsi, J., & Mohammad-Rezazadeh, I. (2019). Atypical functional connectivity in adolescents and adults with persistent and remitted ADHD during a cognitive control task. Translational psychiatry, 9(1), 137.
  • Hosang, G. M., Fisher, H. L., Hodgson, K., Maughan, B., & Farmer, A. E. (2018). Childhood maltreatment and adult medical morbidity in mood disorders: comparison of unipolar depression with bipolar disorder. The British journal of psychiatry: the journal of mental science, 213(5), 645–653.
  • Michelini, G., Kitsune, G. L., Hosang, G. M., Asherson, P., McLoughlin, G., & Kuntsi, J. (2016). Disorder-specific and shared neurophysiological impairments of attention and inhibition in women with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and women with bipolar disorder. Psychological medicine, 46(3), 493–504.
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