Associate professor Annet Kleiboer (Clinical Psychology) and colleagues from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam) have received a grant within the EU/Horizon Europe programme to study the effects of a self-management digital support system to improve resilience and connect vulnerable European citizens in times of change. The project titled ‘RECONNECTED’ will deliver this new model of community care to vulnerable local communities of nine European countries.
Societal challenges and a changing population
Europe is in transition due to a changing population as a result of migration flows, urbanisation, and ageing, and several global societal challenges such as digitalization, climate change, and the war in Ukraine that threaten feelings of safety and well-being of European citizens.
These changes bring new opportunities such as flexibility in work and learning but also cognitive and emotional challenges including information and connection overload related to urban life and digitalisation, worry about the future in relation to the consequences of climate change, and identity problems instigated by, for example, social media use or migration.
Kleiboer: “Diverse groups of citizens have difficulties adjusting to these changes, this puts them at risk of developing mental health problems. Research suggests that the mental health of several marginalised and vulnerable citizens in Europe, such as people with low socio-economic status, immigrants, youth, and elderly, are affected the most by these developments.”
A complex systems perspective
The RECONNECTED project recognizes that these developments affect European citizens in different ways dependent on their phase of life, personal characteristics, and social- and environmental circumstances. Youth mental health is, for example, more likely affected by social media use and continuous connectivity. Geographical location may be important regarding threats of climate change, whereas the war in Ukraine likely affects countries in the close vicinity most by causing increased threat of violence and incoming refugees.
Kleiboer: “A first aim in the project is to study how different societal, environmental, social, and individual characteristics interact and impact on the mental health of European citizens taking a complex system perspective. This will results in actionable insights for policy decision making.”
Digital solutions to help local communities
Digital solutions for mental health care have great potential and are suitable for preventive actions and empowerment of citizens in the community, making mental health care and prevention affordable, accessible, and safe. Most European citizens aged between 16 and 74 have access to the internet (92% in 2021) and the use of mobile devices to access the internet is increasing (forecasted to be 89% in 2028 2019).
In RECONNECTED the digital support system will be developed with stakeholders to ensure that the local needs of users in the community are met and it will be evaluated in nine European countries targeting vulnerable citizens (youth, migrant population, people with low socio-economic status, elderly).
Kleiboer: “This digital support system will include web and mobile based intervention tools and is specifically designed to avoid stigmatisation and optimise empowerment. It targets mental health literacy, psychological resilience and social participation simultaneously to maximize health benefits with the ultimate aim to have European citizens that feel less stigmatised and marginalised, are competent in managing their own mental health in times of change, and to prevent mental health problems.”
A consortium of 11 European partners will bring together knowledge from clinical and developmental psychology, environmental- and social psychiatry, and data science. At the VU, the department of Clinical Psychology (Annet Kleiboer and Heleen Riper) and the department of Computer Science (Mark Hoogendoorn) are involved. Another Dutch partner is the Urban Mental Centre based at the Amsterdam Medical Centre-University of Amsterdam (Claudi Bockting, Reinout Wiers).