Some people are perfectly fine in the city, while others get hopelessly stuck there. With their Center for Urban Mental Health, APH researcher Claudi Bockting (professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry) and UvA researcher Reinout Wiers (professor of developmental psychopathology) are studying why this is the case.

Claudi Bockting explains what makes this center special: "We want to work with various disciplines on an explanatory model for mental problems, so from all sides and at various levels we look at what factors may play a role. That is still quite complicated; to this end we are working with what is called a 'complex systems approach'. This is because most mental problems are not the result of one factor, such as a specific gene or an environmental factor, but of many different ones. And before, we weren't actually well equipped to study that; you need knowledge and models for that from other branches of science that are used to working with many different and also unknown factors.”

Reinout Wiers has added: "Mental health problems are eminently a complex system; think of the brain, genetic differences, past experiences, and so on. There is no magic bullet that explains everything; we want to learn to understand that interplay of factors."

What exactly is this interdisciplinary nature of the center?

"The UvA has designated this topic as its main 'research focus', enabling collaboration between three faculties: Society and Behavioral Sciences, Medicine and Natural Sciences, from which this center emerged. So we work intensively with, for example, neuroscientists and mathematicians, and all kinds of other experts," says Reinout Wiers.

What are the unique characteristics of Amsterdam as far as urban problems are concerned?

Bockting: "Cycling! In Amsterdam, you see that people move through the city on bicycles at an enormous speed. On the one hand, this is obviously very positive; exercise is also good for mental well-being, but this high speed can also cause stress and accidents. For other road users, this can generate extra stress that makes them feel unsafe."

Wiers: "There is also research being done at the center on that kind of scaling effect, which by the way is not only negative: a city is often efficient in terms of transportation and gives all kinds of economic benefits. But is therefore also accompanied by an increase in common mental problems."

Bockting: "By the way, it is not true: the bigger the city, the bigger the problems. That relationship is non-linear. But if a city is really very large, then that does seem to have an accelerated impact on the stress level of the inhabitants, a bit like an R above 1 at Covid-19."

This is part of the article published in het Parool. Read the full article here.

Visit the website of the Centre for urban mental health