Are you interested in the link between the environment and mental health? Would you like to engage with researchers from a large EU-funded research project to reflect on how research in this area can be done? Are you interested in collaborating and networking with others with similar interests? Would you like to spend a weekend in Berlin to discuss your concerns and questions on this topic? You now have the chance to participate in the environMENTAL project’s Consensus Conference. The event will take place in Berlin from November 17-19, 2023.
The conference aims to involve various stakeholders, including individuals with different levels of knowledge, experts, and the general public who are interested in understanding the connection between environmental factors and mental health. By participating, you can contribute to the project’s outcomes and influence brain research. If you are interested in the environMENTAL project and what is planned for the Consensus Conference, let’s explore further.
The environMENTAL Project
environMENTAL is a €10 million project co-funded by the European Commission and the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It is investigating the effect of environmental challenges (e.g., climate change, urbanisation and psychosocial stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic) on mental health. The project started in June 2022 and has a duration of 5 years. It has 16 consortium partners within Europe and 6 associate partners outside the European Union (2 are based in the UK, 3 in the USA, and 1 in China).
The project aims to improve the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses related to the environment and ultimately help people with these conditions. It will, therefore, study environmental factors that influence mental health throughout a person’s life and the mechanisms through which such factors influence mental health. The project will use research data from over 1 million individuals. This will include information about their environment and their mental health, to study how environmental factors contribute to mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, stress, and substance abuse. This data will be analysed along with environmental data from satellite measurements, climate models, and digital health applications to understand how the environment affects the brain and mental health. The project will incorporate advanced techniques such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, brain imaging and molecular analysis. By doing this, project researchers hope to develop markers that can predict the risk of different mental illnesses and create digital and pharmacological interventions that target specific symptoms or illnesses.
The environMENTAL Consensus Conference
In today’s complex world, decision-making is often a challenging process, especially when it involves a diverse group of individuals with different perspectives and expertise. Consensus conferences offer a valuable platform for addressing complex issues and achieving agreement among stakeholders. In this blog post, we explore the concept of a consensus conference and delve into its significance in fostering collaboration, knowledge exchange, and informed decision-making.
But what is a Consensus Conference? A consensus conference is a participatory method that brings together a diverse group of stakeholders (including experts, lay persons and affected parties) to discuss and deliberate on a specific issue or topic – e.g., emerging science and technology. The aim is to reach a consensus or agreement on a set of recommendations or actions that can guide research priorities or policymaking. The agenda is led by citizens rather than experts thereby altering the balance of power between the laypersons and experts.
Are Consensus Conferences Relevant for environMENTAL?
Yes, they are!
The first Consensus Conference was set up in the USA (Joss, 1998; Nielsen et al., 2006) to ensure that new medical technologies are used appropriately. They continue to be used in the medical field. For example, in clinical psychology to define best practices for the delivery of therapies; Or, to pool evidence for the design and development of mental health interventions.
Why does environMENTAL need a Consensus Conference?
Consensus Conferences play a vital role in addressing complex issues, fostering collaboration, and enabling informed decision-making. As environMENTAL is a project addressing complex mental health issues, the Consensus Conference is an excellent opportunity to open up the ongoing research to a wider public. By bringing together diverse perspectives and promoting open dialogue, there is greater potential to understand how its activities resonate with the public. And it will help generate more meaningful recommendations and actions that can shape the research agenda, processes and outcomes of the project. Also, when decisions are made together with citizens, it sends a powerful message about the legitimacy of the project’s activities. It is important that the project is seen to take seriously the concerns and expectations of society and the Consensus Conference is an excellent opportunity to do this.
Why should I be Interested?
It is a great opportunity for you to collaborate with other like-minded individuals, to influence mental health research and to drive the agenda. It also gives you a chance to access and evaluate the latest research and knowledge on environMENTAL factors affecting mental health and to engage deeply with cutting-edge research and innovation in a large EU-funded project.
How does a consensus conference benefit society?
It amplifies the perspectives, views, concerns, arguments and reasoning of citizens making it heard at the highest levels of decision and policymaking including at the European Commission.
How can I participate?
Kindly email your questions regarding the consensus conference to George Ogoh (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Joss, S. (1998) Danish consensus conferences as a model of participatory technology assessment: An impact study of consensus conferences on Danish Parliament and Danish public debate. Science and Public Policy, 25(1), pp. 2–22.
Nielsen, A.P. et al. (2006) Consensus Conference Manual. The Hague: Landbouw-Economisch Institut (LEI).