Below listed are research projects that are currently being carried out within the Centre for Urban Mental Health. 

Mega Meta Database for Depression, Anxiety, and Substance Use

The Centre for Urban Mental Health at the University of Amsterdam and Amsterdam UMC is conducting an extensive systematic review and meta-analysis (more than 300.000 studies) to find out what factors and interaction of factors contribute to the onset, maintenance, and relapse of depressive-, anxiety-, and substance use disorders.

Click here to access the official Project Website.

Active and Healthy Aging: Promoting Preventive Interventions based on Resilience Network Analysis 

Mental and physical well-being of vulnerable seniors, especially in large cities, present massive and urgent concerns to aging individuals (>100.000 in Amsterdam), caretakers, and society at large.

The resilience network perspective proposes that seniors’ mental and physical fitness is represented as meta-stable states in a system of networks (from functional and structural brain networks to networks of symptoms, behaviors, environmental factors, and social networks).

This will help signal imminent transitions and uncover patterns of network factors that promote or reduce resilience. This approach will enable preventive interventions to promote resilience among the most vulnerable citizens.

PhD Candidate: Lotte Brinkhof

Project Applicants: associate processor Harm Krugers (FNWI-SILS); professor Richard Ridderinkhof (FMG-Developmental Psychology)

Project Team: prof. dr. Jaap Murre; dr. Sanne de Wit

Involved (co)directors: prof. dr. Claudi Bockting; prof. dr. Reinout Wiers

Computational modelling of psychological and social dynamics in urban mental health conditions: the case of addictive substance use

This project will develop novel computational models to study the dynamics of addictive substance (ab)use. The central hypothesis is that the dynamics of addiction and mental health issues are driven by psychological and social dynamics and the aim is to build complex system models to understand this by forming a computational modeling framework that integrates psychological and social levels of explanation. This modeling framework will be applied to study the interplay of substance use and mental health and will provide a toolbox applicable to study other common mental health conditions throughout the Centre for Urban Mental Health.

PhD Candidate: Maarten van den Ende​

Project Applicants: assistant professor Michael Lees (FNWI-Informatics); assistant professor Sacha Epskamp (FMG-Psychological Methods)

Project Team: prof. dr. Han van der Maas, prof. dr. Peter Sloot

Involved (co)director: prof. dr. Reinout Wiers

Does living in urban areas cause cognitive and linguistic changes associated with mental health that can be detected from online language?

Does living in urban areas cause cognitive and linguistic changes that affect your mental health? Can these changes be detected through our online interactions? This project at UMH will take stock of changes in urban mental health via large online social media datasets (i.e. Twitter).

Online differences in the language and social networks of individuals that live in urban versus non-urban areas will be studied to get a better idea of how behavioral, cognitive, and social factors interact over time and lead to different mental health outcomes. The ultimate goal will be to support future analysis and develop new toolkits to better understand mental health in cities.


Johan Bollen is a professor of informatics at Indiana University. He was formerly a staff scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 2005-2009, and an Assistant Professor at the Department of Computer Science of Old Dominion University from 2002 to 2005. He obtained his PhD in Experimental Psychology from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in 2001.  

Bollen’s work is situated at the intersection of computational social science and large-scale data analytics. His research has focused on the complex interactions between human behavior, emotions, and cognition, in particular in online environments, with applications in the psychological and mental health aspects of computational social science.

For the past 15 years he has studied the complex dynamics of human behavior and emotions interacting with large-scale techno-social systems, such as the internet, social media, financial markets, governance, and scholarly communication. He has published over 80 publications from research that has been funded by numerous agencies such as the NSF, DARPA, IARPA, NASA, and the Mellon Foundation, leading to innovations, in particular, on significant questions of how human cognition and social behavior interact, and increasingly how those bidirectional interactions shape mental health, public health, and human well-being.

More information about the UMH Fellowship:

As a IAS/UMH Fellow Professor Bollen will investigate whether living in urban areas causes cognitive and linguistic changes associated with mental health that can be detected from online language. Professor Bollen and his team will examine the content  of a very large set of geolocated timelines and Twitter data sets for longitudinal indicators and language features associated with changes in mental health using a variety of tools that his team has developed over the past 5 years, such as sentiment lexicons, indicators of so-called distorted thinking (thoughts associated with a variety of internalizing disorders), and other features, including online social network parameters, discovered by  a range of supervised and unsupervised machine learning techniques that can be trained to detect the differences in the language of individuals urban vs. non-urban areas. The results of this analysis will be compared to public health indicators such as infection rates, excess mortality, and population density. The analysis will not be solely focused on COVID-19-related changes, but general differences in how the mental health status of individuals in urban areas differs from those in non-urban areas and which factors drive such differences. The present toolkit of analytical tools is specifically focused on US English, but can be translated to the Dutch context which would be part of the proposed research activities as a fellow. Furthermore, the analysis can be performed for “snapshots” of the data, e.g. to test general differences, and longitudinally over time, possibly revealing the dynamics of the complex interactions of behavioral, cognitive, and social factors that are involved in these differences.

Parenting in the city: Assessing the Family Check-Up in Amsterdam

Emerging problems in families and their children at risk are usually not acknowledged, or too late, leading to a lack of support for those who need it the most and resulting in more severe problems within these families. The low-key, Family Check-Up (FCU; Dishion, 1990) method seems to be very helpful in detecting and supporting families at risk in an early stage.

More specifically, the FCU is a brief, family-oriented intervention to improve family management skills of parents, disruptive family-interactions, and associated child problem behavior. The intervention is assessment-driven, tailored to individual families’ needs, and identifies and promotes positive parenting practices (e.g., positive behavior support). The FCU has been associated with a range of positive outcomes, such as improvements in adolescent self-regulation, depression, and school engagement, as well as improved parenting practices, including long-term effects for families living in a context of high neighborhood deprivation (e.g., Shaw et al., 2016).

With four studies, the aim is to expand current knowledge by studying 1) the FCU's effects in Dutch families and 2) how urbanicity or urban stress influences program responsiveness.

Postdoc: Brechtje de Mooij

Project Team: dr. Loes van Rijn-van Gelderen, prof. dr. Geertjan Overbeek, dr. Gerlieke Veltkamp, dr. Christian Bröer  

Understanding affective and addictive disorders in adolescents with an urban background using a life-course complex systems approach

Symptoms of affective and addictive disorders are common during adolescence and change over time. In resilient adolescents, symptoms may disappear, while in others, these symptoms persist or even transition to a disorder.

The aim is to understand the complexity of the development of affective disorders such as anxiety, mood, stress, and addictive disorders such as alcohol, drug abuse, excessive gaming, or social media use in adolescents living in urban areas. For this purpose, the Amsterdam Born Children and their Development cohort will be used.

An interdisciplinary approach is taken in investigating dynamic interactions between multi-level factors including individual, social, and environmental health determinants.

PhD Candidate: Hanan Bozhar

Project Applicants: associate professor Susanne de Rooij (Amsterdam UMC, Location  AMC -Epidemiology and Data Science); assistant professor Helle Larsen (FMG-Developmental Psychology)

Project Team: dr. Tanja Vrijkotte; dr. Anja Lok

Involved (co)directors: prof. dr. Claudi Bockting; prof. dr. Reinout Wiers

Understanding and targeting microbial patterns among adolescents with depression: using a complex systems approach in an urban environment 

Adolescent depression is prevalent in urban settings and associated with recurrence, comorbidity and suicide. Many, if not all of the challenges, faced by the developing adolescent in an urban environment have an impact on the intestinal commensal microbiota. This may be particularly valuable in adolescents with depression because response to current treatment is less effective than in adults.

Therefore, targeting the intestinal bacteria, and consequently the microbiota-gut-brain axis, to reduce depressive symptomatology is an innovative concept. The malleability of the nervous system at adolescence can be harnessed and may provide a critical window of opportunity to safely mitigate depression.

In order to target the microbiome, we need an increased understanding of the microbial patterns in urban settings and how this is altered in depression. This goal asks for a complexity approach, in which multiple factors at distinct levels interact and biological systems are a potential endpoint to target.

PhD Candidate: Vera Korenblik

Project Applicants: dr. Anja Lok (Amsterdam UMC, location AMC, dept. Psychiatry); professor Stanley Bul (FNWI-SILS)

Project Team: prof. dr. Claudi Bockting; dr. Aniko Korosi

Involved (co)director: prof. dr. Claudi Bockting

Unravelling the dynamics of depression in high-risk urban populations using a complex systems approach

Depression is a highly prevalent and burdensome mental disorder in all parts of the world. Importantly, there are signs that depression is more prevalent in cities and that risk factors for depression cluster in urban areas. Given that the urban environment is now the main habitat of the world population, understanding the impact of urban living on depression is of major importance.

The main purpose of this project is understanding how different aspects of the urban environment, spanning macro-, meso- and, micro-level factors, all dynamically interact and conspire to contribute to onset and maintenance of depression in vulnerable urban inhabitants. We aim to draw a theoretical causal-loop model of ‘urban factors’ and their impact on depression, and explore the (intersecting) roles of low socioeconomic status and ethnicity more in depth.

Results of this project will feed into a pilot study aimed to test a new accessible intervention for depression in vulnerable populations (i.e. with low socioeconomic status and ethnic minority groups). 

PhD Candidate: Junus van der Wal

Project Applicants: prof. dr. Claudi Bockting (Amsterdam UMC, location AMC, dept. Psychiatry); prof. dr. Karien Stronks (Amsterdam UMC, location AMC, dept. Public Health)

Project Team: dr. Mary Nicolaou; dr. Anja Lok

Involved (co)director: prof. dr. Claudi Bockting

Urban Mental Health and Modelling Symptom Networks; from Network Analysis to Interventions

In this project, the aim is 1) to develop a network-based method to map an individual's interactions between psychological symptoms and urban factors influencing these symptoms (e.g., social interaction, physical contexts, etc.) and 2) to develop and test personalized interventions based on this method.

To fulfill these aims, the plan is to carry out three main studies. First, a simulation study is performed to test the feasibility of idiographic networks in clinical practice.

Second, idiographic networks are used to develop a personalised intervention in students who want to stop smoking tobacco and/or cannabis and present other mental health symptoms. 

Third, the same network-based intervention is applied in a vulnerable sample of adolescent ethnic minorities who are either undergoing treatment in youth care or are in juvenile detention, and who suffer from addiction and other mental health comorbidities.

PhD Candidate: Alessandra Mansueto

Project Applicants: prof. dr. Reinout Wiers (FMG-PSY); prof. dr. Julia van Weert (FMG)

Project Team: dr. Sacha Epskamp; dr. Barbara Schouten

Involved (co)director: prof. dr. Reinout Wiers

Urban Networks of Addiction and Depression 

This project proposes leveraging a complex systems approach to better understand contributing factors in addiction and depression in an urban context focusing on diversity in terms of ethnic minority groups. The project consists of three subprojects.

First, a cross-sectional network model of depression and addiction will be derived in the urban context for subgroups (e.g., divided by ethnicity, age and gender).

Second, the dynamical properties of this cross-sectional model will be studied and used to derive predictions about the course of the two disorders. Here, the focus will be on the resiliency factors for particular subgroups.

Third, interventions will be focused on and the derived model will be tested to understand if it is able to predict treatment effect by comparing its results with clinical intervention data. Insights of this project could lead to more targeted interventions for addiction, depression and their comorbidity.

PhD Candidate: Karoline Huth​

Project Applicants: Associate professor Ruth van Holst (Amsterdam UMC, location AMC, dept. Psychiatry, assistant professor Judy Luigjes (Amsterdam UMC, location AMC, dept. Psychiatry); assistant professor Maarten Marsman (FMG-Psychological Methods)

Involved (co)directors: prof. dr. Claudi Bockting; prof. dr. Reinout Wiers

Working Out Urban Stress 

Understanding how exercise training protects against stress and prevents depression and anxiety in high-risk urban adolescents. Adolescents living in an urban, demanding and social- media-dominated environment commonly report high levels of stress.

Consequently, the incidence of stress-related psychopathologies, such as depression, is rising in this population. Furthermore, adolescents are nowadays often physically in-active and overweight, which further increases their sensitivity to stress. Exercise training helps to deal with stress. How it exactly does this, remains poorly understood.

The goal of this project is to understand how exercise training decreases sensitivity to stress and whether exercise training plays a central role in preventing depression and anxiety in high-risk adolescents, by studying it at the neurobiological and behavioral level.

PhD Candidate: Anneke Vuurhegge

Project Applicants: assistant professor Joram Mul (FNWI-SILS); assistant professor Anouk Schrantee (Amsterdam UMC, Location AMC -Radiology & Nuclear Medicine)

Project Team: prof. dr. Paul Lucassen

Involved (co)director: prof. dr. Claudi Bockting