Meet the Researcher: Karoline Huth, M.Sc.


Karoline Huth is a Ph.D. candidate at the Centre for Urban Mental Health. She focuses on developing a network theory of depression and addiction in an urban context. Her project is supervised by prof. dr. Ruth van Holst, prof. dr. Maarten Marsman, prof. dr. Judy Luigjes, and prof. dr. Anneke Goudriaan. With a strong background in psychological methods, she advances statistical methods around network analysis and applies those to answer questions in (clinical) psychology. For example, she assesses how ethno-cultural and socio-economic factors increase or buffer the risk of mental health symptoms. In her free time, she can be found doing some long-distance sports, like running through Amsterdam’s nature reserves or road cycling along the dunes.

1. Tell us a bit about your research at the Centre for Urban Mental Health.

Social determinants such as ethno-cultural and socio-economic factors gain increasing acknowledgement as a pressing factor for mental health. While social determinants largely affect individuals’ health, individuals themselves have little influence on those determinants: one cannot change one's ethnicity and only to a small extent can one change one’s social status. Rather, disintegration (e.g., larger scale political inequities and societies barrier to personal and social growth) is the main driver of ethno-cultural and socio-economic influences on mental health. By assessing these societal influences, one takes the perspective of population mental health, where mental distress in communities can be understood as a response to relative deprivation, social injustice, and inadequate access to health care and education facilities.

During my Ph.D. project, I attempt to address the questions: What are the mechanisms underlying the interplay between ethno-cultural factors, socio-economic determinants, and mental health from a population perspective? Additionally, what systems principles can we use to effectively intervene on and prevent mental distress?

2. Why is it important to focus on urban mental health?

For a long time, most humans have lived in rural areas and small settlements. There, we had a controlled surrounding area and limited outside stressors like noise pollution. We also had a select number of individuals we interacted with, and we usually had closer contact with our families. In very recent times, we have begun aggregating in ever-increasing cities; nowadays, most of human civilization can be found in cities. This movement to the city is still accelerating. Urbanisation can come with great benefits like more job opportunities, diversified human interactions, and creativity hubs. Currently however, we don’t know enough about how these different life-conditions affect us as humans. How do we respond to the increasing influences that we humans experience in cities (e.g., more noise pollutants, more individuals, and less nature)? Therefore, I think it is an interesting and pressing question to assess whether the promises of urban living go in line with or contrary to mental health.

3. Are you more of a city or country person? Why?

Currently, I am very much an "in-between" person. I need some green area around me to go for runs or cycles easily. At the same time, I very much enjoy going to the city, checking out a new café or restaurant, and meeting different types of people. Right now, I am living in a spot that is good for me – Amsterdam Noord. It is close to nature, but the city is still easily accessible by bike. In the future, I see myself somewhere surrounded by more green, with a small vegetable patch and some beehives.

4. Which book would you recommend reading? Why?

For something more academic, I would very much encourage people to check out Donella Meadows, for example, "Thinking in Systems: A primer." Meadows was a very inspirational woman, an environmental scientist, and a writer. The book describes how we can perceive the world as a system or compilation of systems. Systems are defined by highly interacting, mutually influencing entities that form several feedback loops, and are characterized commonly by self-organization. Her book describes many of the backbones that we currently implement in complexity research.

More of an easy-read, casual book (and my probably all-time favorite) is "Momo" by Michael Ende. Although it is a children’s book written in the 70s, it is also great for adults and very much fits the current day and age. It is a book about the concept of time, consumerism, and how a small group of people with hidden interests can induce large changes in people’s lives.

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