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NEEDS: Dynamic Urban Environmental Exposures on Depression and Suicide


Depression is among the leading health burdens worldwide and people affected by depression have a higher suicide risk. Environmental exposures may act as potential stressors or buffers to people’s mental health status. How much the environment (e.g. urban design, green space, social interaction) contributes to depression and suicide risk remains unclear and evidence tends to be limited to the residential environment. NEEDS calls such environmental exposure assessments into question.

The main objective of NEEDS are to understand the impact of environmental exposures on depression and suicide. To address this objective, NEEDS put (A) environmental exposures along people’s mobility throughout the day and (B) over their residential life course central.

Only such dynamic environmental exposure assessments stressing the daily mobility of people and their residential life course facilitate the exploration of exposure duration, exposure sequences, and exposure accumulation across space and over time.

Rates of depression and suicide are on the rise, and so there is an urgent need to understand how they develop, in order to prevent them. To address these research challenges, the latest advances in geotechnologies will be implemented. NEEDS will combine smartphone-based sensing, tracking people’s mobility with GPS, population-wide register linkages, and cutting edge modelling from statistics and machine learning to understand cities and their influence on mental health. The results of the NEEDS project will help decision-makers to formulate policies towards a healthy urban living.


NEEDS is led by Marco Helbich and is hosted by the Department of Human Geography and Planning, Utrecht University. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement No 714993).