aerial shot of young people sitting on grass

Can personality factors predict mental disorders?

27 July 2021
Student Spotlight: Samantha Lynch
PhD student Samantha Lynch is researching ways to optimise mental health interventions by using innovative ways to classify and predict mental disorders.

What is your background and how did you come to join the Matilda Centre?

Ms Samantha Lynch

Samantha Lynch, PhD student

My path to the Matilda Centre has not been a straightforward one. Believe it or not my first job was fundraising for the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, where I raised money to support research to find faster diagnoses, better treatments, and ultimately cures for childhood illnesses and injuries.

I was always interested in the interaction between personality and mental health of young people. I studied psychology at the University of Queensland, where I looked at impulsivity and hazardous drinking in young adults, and the influence of negative experiences with alcohol for my Honours thesis, but I was really unsure about what I wanted to do and how to turn this interest into a career.

In 2016 I moved from Brisbane to Sydney to join the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre as a research assistant. It was there that I had conversations with Associate Professor Nicola Newton and Associate Professor Cath Chapman that gave me the confidence to actually pursue the research questions I was interested in and apply for a PhD in 2019.

During my time at the Matilda Centre, my understanding of what being a researcher and expert in adolescent mental health entails has broadened. I have learnt so much while doing my PhD and through my role as Research Program Officer on the Positive Choices and Cracks in the Ice programs of work.

Can you tell us about your research?

The overarching mission of my research is to make sure the right mental health interventions are being given to the right people at the right time.
Samantha Lynch, PhD student

The overarching mission of my research is to make sure the right mental health interventions are being given to the right people at the right time.

My research uses data-driven approaches to explore the relationship between personality traits and psychopathology (i.e. the behavioural and cognitive manifestations of mental disorders). Although there are well established links between personality and mental disorders, much of this research has been cross-sectional (i.e. focussed on a single point in time) and based on adult populations. Adolescence is a critical period of the onset of mental disorders, which makes this period of development particularly important for advancing our understanding of the links between personality and psychopathology.

For my PhD, I am pursuing these questions with data from two of Matilda Centre’s school-based substance use prevention trials. Drawing on data from the Climate and Preventure and Climate Schools Combined studies, my research aims to explore the structure of psychopathology among adolescents and examine relationships with maladaptive personality traits over the adolescent period. My PhD will also look at the impact of an existing personality-targeted substance use prevention program (PreVenture) on the development of different dimensions of psychopathology.

All this awesome research is made possible thanks to a PhD scholarship from the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in PRevention and Early intervention in Mental Illness and Substance use (PREMISE) – thanks PREMISE!

What has been one of your best experiences as an HDR student?

The highlight of my PhD so far has been having my systematic review on the risk and protective factors for general and specific dimensions of psychopathology published in Clinical Psychology Review. 

Clinical Psychology Review
A systematic review of transdiagnostic risk and protective factors for general and specific psychopathology in young people
Read the systematic review

What do you like most about working at the Matilda Centre – how is it different to other places you’ve worked?

There are a lot of places where you can work or study mental health and substance use, but I’m so glad I found the Matilda Centre. The culture at the Centre is so rare.

The Matilda Centre has built this genuine, strengths-based culture and finds unique ways to support people and celebrate achievements. Whether that be the Zoom check-ins and activities to keep us all connected and sane through lockdown, or Director Maree Teesson’s Friday Celebration email.

What is something most people wouldn't know about you?

I almost studied acting instead of psychology at Uni and was even offered a place at one of Australia’s top drama schools.


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