The European Union awards the “CoActuem per la salut mental” project, promoted by the University of Barcelona

The European Union awards the “CoActuem per la salut mental” project, promoted by the University of Barcelona

The “CoActuem per la salut mental” project, an initiative promoted by the OpenSystems research group at the University of Barcelona and the Mental Health Federation of Catalonia, has received the European Union’s Prize for Citizen Science 2024 in the digital communities category. With this award, the EU honours excellence in work to support communities, generate social benefits and foster an open and participatory society through the innovative use of digital technologies.

“The project enables citizens to play an active role in research that directly impacts their lives, and harnesses the power of technology to include marginalised voices as active participants in mental health transformation. In this case, technology makes it easier for the population to take part in the development of a personalised approach to health. From a global perspective, the project fosters an open and inclusive civil society through community empowerment in critical engagement with digital technologies. It is therefore a worthy winner of the 2024 prize on digital communities”, said the jury.

The EU Citizen Science Prizes, announced today, Wednesday 12 June, were established in 2023 to recognise the best citizen science initiatives that help to foster a pluralistic, inclusive and more sustainable society in Europe through public participation. They are awarded by Ars Electronica, under IMPETUS, a project funded by the EU in the context of its research and innovation programme. The second edition, which attracted a total of 288 entries, also awarded prizes to the “INCREASE” (grand prize) and “dSeaPaCSos” (diversity and collaboration award) initiatives. The awards will be presented next September at the Ars Electronica headquarters in Linz (Austria).

Giving a voice to people with experience on mental health

La Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) aboga para impulsar cambios urgentes en el cuidado de la salud mental de la población que impliquen acciones colectivas y redes de apoyo basadas en la comunidad. Con estos referentes, «CoActuemos por la salud mental» es una iniciativa pionera de investigación que explora las redes de apoyo social en la salud mental desde una nueva perspectiva, para abordar las preocupaciones y los retos que plantea en la atención personal, familiar y social a nivel global.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advocates for urgent changes in mental health care that involve collective action and community-based support networks. “CoActuem per la salud mental” is a pioneering research initiative that explores social support networks in mental health from a new perspective, to address concerns and challenges in personal, family and social care globally.

“CoAct for mental health” is promoted by two entities: the OpenSystems research group of the UB, led by Professor Josep Perelló and with the participation of experts Isabelle Bonhoure, Franziska Peter and Anna Cigarini, from the Faculty of Physics and the Institute of Complex Systems of the UB (UBICS), and the Mental Health Federation of Catalonia, directed by Marta Poll and with the direct involvement of Bàrbara Mitats.

With a strong inclusive and social component, it has given voice and prominence to people and families with their experience of mental health, who have actively participated in the research as co-researchers. The project, which began in 2020, is part of the European citizen social science project Co-designing Citizen Social Science for Collective Action (CoAct), also launched in 2020 and funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

The first citizen science conversation bot

Using Telegram, “CoActuem per la salut mental” has created the first citizen science conversation bot as a research tool at the service of community mental health. A total of thirty-two co-researchers wrote the 222 micro-stories — illustrated by the cartoonist Pau Badia — that are shared through the bot. In this way, their individual experiences and perspectives were shared with the people who entered the assistant to participate in the research. Subsequently, the information collected through this bot is interpreted on a collective scale through the collaboration of a broad community of professionals and organisations related to mental health.

This pioneering citizen science conversation bot helps to better understand how social support networks in mental health work, and proposes actions to promote and strengthen them within society.

The award allows the innovative digital tool, configured in four languages (Catalan, Spanish, English and German), to be reopened soon to participation from anywhere in the world and from all individual perspectives.

“Thanks to the prize, we will reactivate the conversation bot and improve the experience for those who participate. We also want to increase the involvement of the co-researchers — with mental health problems and family members — who have collaborated in this research from the beginning. We are also analysing the bot data obtained thanks to the active support of hundreds of co-researchers”, says Josep Perelló, a member of the UB’s Department of Condensed Matter Physics.

Generating scientific evidence on social support networks

This transdisciplinary research tool, based on computational social science, complexity sciences, social sciences and the world of arts, has explored the key elements of social support networks in mental health. It has also created evidence to detect social contexts that present little support for people with mental health and family problems, such as work environments or the neighbourhood. The research has also identified strategies that are already being used by the community itself. Associations, health agencies and the WHO itself attribute to social support networks the capacity to improve the well-being and quality of life of people with mental health problems, as well as to avoid social exclusion and prevent possible relapses. This is clear from the results of the project, which were presented at the first Mental Health Community Assembly of the “CoActuem per la salut mental” project, held in November 2022 at the Royal Academy of Medicine of Catalonia.

During the session, a final document with fourteen policy recommendations was also validated, emphasising issues such as the recruitment of people with mental health problems; the role of families and the close environment; the promotion of support for carers; the community approach; the promotion of social support networks and their accessibility; the training of professionals; the prevention of emotional well-being; individual and collective empowerment; the fight against stigma; the training of society as a whole; the promotion of advance decision-making plans; and the creation of a mental health data observatory, among others.

“In the future, we hope to be able to publish related results in scientific journals that will provide a better understanding of social support networks in mental health, which are nourished by social interactions and everyday experiences, key aspects of emotional well-being for everyone. We also want to share, in collaboration with the co-researchers, the methodologies used in ‘CoActuem per la salut mental’ with a wide scientific community. We are also considering publishing the whole experience in the form of a book to make it accessible to everyone, and I’m sure the prize will help make this possible," concludes Isabelle Bonhoure, a member of the OpenSystems research team.

Attached files
  • The European Union’s Prize for Citizen Science, in the category of digital communities, distinguishes the initiative of the UB and the Mental Health Federation of Catalonia for creating the first collaborative chatbot in the service of community mental health.
  • Josep Perelló and Isabelle Bonhoure, members of the OpenSystems research group at the University of Barcelona.
Regions: Europe, Spain
Keywords: Health, Environmental health, Medical, People in health research, Public Dialogue - health, Society, Psychology


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