Meet the Researcher: Junus van der Wal


Junus van der Wal (1991) is a Ph.D. candidate at the Centre for Urban Mental Health, an interdisciplinary research priority area of the University of Amsterdam. He is based at the Faculty of Medicine, in the departments of Psychiatry and Public Health.

Born and raised in Groningen, he moved to Amsterdam to study medicine. After obtaining his medical degree, he worked at several psychiatric clinics for 1.5 years, before joining the Centre in 2020 to start his full-time Ph.D. His research focusses on targeting high-risk groups for depression in an urban setting, with a special focus on the role of ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

He was the first author of the research group’s position paper, published in Lancet Psychiatry in 2021[1], and also wrote a paper on the impact of socioeconomic status on the effect of online treatment for depression [2].

Photo by Sterre de Boer

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

I’m trying to provide part of the answer to the question: why are some people in cities more vulnerable to developing depression than others, and how can we best help them? If you think about it, the city is quite a peculiar phenomenon. Cities are vibrant and exciting, providing ample opportunities to study, work, or go out and party. But living in a city can also be stressful, for example, because of pollution, crime, or social inequalities. In my research, I use a complexity approach to study how all of these factors together impact the mental health of city inhabitants, with a special focus on the role of ethnicity and socioeconomic circumstances. My main aim is to find new target points for interventions for depression in vulnerable urban populations. These targets points will be tested in a pilot study.

2. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences just invited you to join their “Faces of Science” network to recognise 12 talented Ph.D. students at Dutch universities. Could you tell us a bit more about this network and what it will mean for your work?

As one of the “Faces of Science”, I will share about my research and my life as a Ph.D. candidate, mostly to a younger audience of (possibly) aspiring scientists. Along with the others in this network, I will do this through blog posts, videos, or even live talks, for example for high school students who need to choose what to study or for higher education students who have to think about their career plans. By providing a sneak peek of what we do as researchers, we can inform them about what it’s like to work in academia. Of course, we also talk about what we actually study and the results we find. It’s exciting to have such a unique opportunity to inform a broader audience about my research, and the research we do at the Centre for Urban Mental Health.

3. What are the most important aspects – for you – to maintain good mental health while living in the city?

The two things I most like to do to ‘recharge’ my mental health are either going for a run or playing the guitar. For me, running is the perfect way to blow off some steam and clear my mind. I enjoy running in Amsterdam and try to take a different route each time. I sometimes end up discovering beautiful new spots that I didn’t even know existed! I picked up the guitar during lockdown last year after becoming a Taylor Swift fan. I always liked singing, but she inspired me to accompany myself on the guitar (although my housemates suggest that I should play songs by other artists as well).

[1] J. M. van der Wal et al. Advancing urban mental health research: From complexity science to actionable targets for intervention. Lancet Psychiatry 8, 991–1000 (2021).

[2] J.M. van der Wal et al. Guided internet interventions for depression: impact of sociodemographic factors on treatment outcome in Indonesia. Behav Res Ther 130: 103589 (2020).

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