Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance use disorders and eating disorders often co-occur among individuals who have been exposed to trauma. New research funded by Australian Rotary Health aims to uncover what puts young Australians at risk of developing these comorbid mental health conditions.

Ivana Kihas was awarded the Rotary District 9685 PhD Scholarship by Australian Rotary Health in 2017 to investigate the relationship between PTSD symptom severity, substance use severity and disordered eating behaviours in a sample of adolescents at the University of Sydney.

“This research will explore the patterns and risk factors of these disorders co-occurring through three parts, comprising of analysing data from a household survey and from a survey looking at the efficacy of a school-based program,” Ivana said.

“In addition, this research will be conducted within adolescents seeking treatment for traumatic stress and substance misuse.”

Previously working within drug and alcohol research helped Ivana realise how often a person with a substance use problem, also had trauma exposure that they would often link to their substance use.

“Many of these research clients would also talk about unhealthy eating patterns, usually only focussing on addressing substance use problems first,” Ivana said.

Now she hopes that developing a better understanding of the risk factors between trauma, substance use and eating disorders within adolescents, will make a difference in improving the mental health of young Australians.

In Ivana’s research so far, preliminary findings suggest that binge eating and purging problem eating behaviours were associated with more mental health issues than other types of eating disorders.

“This has been a particular highlight of my research findings so far as I did not expect that there would be such a clear difference between the different types of eating disorders.”

“I am looking forward to exploring this further through my other two datasets and seeing what this means for my research questions.”

We look forward to hearing more about Ivana’s findings once she completes her PhD.


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