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Urban living is on the rise. Urban environments, like Amsterdam, are characterized by features that make city life not only attractive and exciting, but also more challenging and stressful than rural environments, which negatively impacts mental health. With a new research priority area, the University of Amsterdam invests substantially in research at three of its faculties and the Institute for Advanced for Study to better understand and promote mental health in urban environments.

Girl gets anxious on crowded road crossing
(Photo: Shutterstock)

The new interdisciplinary UvA consortium, Urban Mental Health, aims to better understand the complexities behind and find new pathways to promote urban mental health. Urban Mental Health aims to develop a top-notch, interdisciplinary, eventually independent research institute on a very timely and important topic for society and with a long-term impact on science.

Researchers will investigate why many individuals develop mental health problems, like addictions, anxiety or depression while others in the same context don’t. And why people living in big cities are more at risk then people in rural areas. We still poorly understand the mechanisms underlying these differences, while the percentage of the world’s population living in urban areas keeps on rising.

Urban Mental Health will study factors that interact

The factors that affect mental health are numerous and diverse and can be found at different levels of description, ranging from genetics and cellular mechanisms involved in adaptations to stress, to personality, parental care, poverty, noise and pollution, and perceived safety and experienced inequalities. While up to now the impact of these factors was mainly studied in isolation, in real life, they often interact in complex ways.

Graph showing the research method
Studying interactions and changes over time

Urban Mental Health will study these interactions and changes over time and identify their connections with specific modeling tools (complexity science), with expertise from the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). The research will focus on the three most common mental disorders: addiction, anxiety, and depression. These disorders constitute three of the five most costly mental health and brain disorders, ranging from costs of burn-out and sick-leaves to crime and suicide.

Uniting three faculties

Urban Mental Health is coordinated by the UvA faculties of Medicine (Amsterdam UMC), Social and Behavioral Sciences (FMG) and Science (FNWI) together with the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). Co-directors are Claudi Bockting (Amsterdam UMC, AMC) and Reinout Wiers (Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences), and is financially embedded in FNWI (Paul Lucassen).

Working with societal partners

Urban Mental Health will attract and involve various stakeholders. As such, the priority area will have direct relevance for mental health in general and for Amsterdam in particular.

Launch event and first call

Urban Mental Health will be officially launched on 27 June, along with a first round of calls to initiate new interdisciplinary research projects.