The project consists of three coherent layers of research: mapping, zooming and targeting. In the mapping layer, we study the characteristics and dynamics of individual symptom networks for a wide variety of mentally ill patients.

Why map the symptoms of mental disorders?

We argue that relationships between symptoms constitute the flesh and bones of mental disorders. For example, why does poor sleep lead to lethargy, lead to feeling blue, lead to excessive eating behaviour, lead to absenteeism due to illness, lead to even worse sleep, and so on? By studying the dynamics of symptom networks, we may be able to understand how an individual’s symptoms affect each other over time. This will not only deliver insights into how mental disorders are initiated and persist, but a better understanding of symptom networks will also open up possibilities for customising interventions in daily life.

How will the mapping take place?

We aim to map the individual symptom networks of a large sample of patients with a broad range of mental disorders before they start treatment. The data will be collected using the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) and variables such as physical activity, social media use and sleep quality, will be automatically logged. 

Further research questions

We will determine whether symptom networks can be grouped based on shared network structures. This will allow us to study typical network profiles and how they relate to traditional categorical diagnoses within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). We will look at what the similarities and differences are between the structures of symptom networks in individuals who share a DSM diagnosis. We will also study the dynamics of the symptom networks within individuals to try to answer questions such as: 'Can we predict at an early stage how an individual's psychological condition will develop, based on his or her symptom network? And can we identify early warning signs to predict changes in an individual’s symptom network and overall mental state?