Mental Health and Wellbeing

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as a state of general emotional, mental and social wellbeing, and considers this as a fundamental prerequisite for health in general ('No health without mental health'). In recent years, one becomes more and more convinced of the important role mental health plays in global health. In Europe, mental health is even considered to be one of the greatest public health challenges for the coming decades. The WHO estimates that at present each year at least one third of the European population deals with mental health problems. According to the ‘Global Burden of Disease Report 2012’ of the WHO, about 19% of the global disease burden can be attributed to these health problems. This is not only detrimental to the individual, but it obviously has a very severe social impact, which is also formally recognized in several declarations and action plans within the WHO and Europe, such as the ‘European Pact for Mental Health and Wellbeing 2008 ', and the recent ‘WHO Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020’,  signed in 2013 by ministers of 194 countries. However, we see that mental health is still receiving poor attention compared with "somatic" health care, both in terms of public interest, treatment options, prevention initiatives, released budget, etc ... This is partly due to the still existing stigma of having psychological problems and to incomprehension, but is also largely due to a lack of evidence-based  insights because of the shortage of solid scientific research in this area.

Aims and focus of the research group 'MENT'

The Mental Health and Wellbeing Research Group (MENT) conducts primarily social scientific research (quantitative-epidemiological as well as qualitative) in the field of mental health and general well-being, clearly starting from a holistic bio-psycho-social health / disease model. The research is situated in different sub-domains:
-factors associated with good mental health and general well-being
-frequency of various problems in the field of mental health and general well-being
-risk factors and determinants of such health
-prevention of these problems and promoting mental health and general well-being; coping mechanisms
-therapeutic interventions in this area
-healthcare (health services research) and policies (health policy research) regarding mental health and general well-being

The research focuses on both the broad population and certain sub-populations or risk groups in terms of mental health, such as:
-children, youth, school children (child mental health)
-elderly subjects, residents of nursing homes (elderly mental health)
-people in difficult working conditions (occupational mental health)
-people with severe somatic diseases, the chronically ill, terminally ill
-psychiatric patients, people with intellectual disabilities, people with dementia
-immigrants and other minority groups
-people in extreme dependency situations, eg. prisoners, hospitals, …
-people in deprivation, poverty
-people with different sexual orientation
-. ...

A broad range of relevant topics related to mental health and wellbeing in these various fields and populations can be studied, such as: depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide, sexuality, burnout, stress, happiness, pain, life, self-determination and dependency, stigma, etc ... The research can be quite varied in nature, but it has always the same finality in mind: scientific insight in and promoting the mental health and well-being (as defined by the WHO) of populations.

Within the Center for Neurosciences (C4N) the Mental Health and Wellbeing Research Group (MENT), as part of the section “Behavior & Cognition and Health Impact”, will predominantly contribute to the epidemiological and psycho-social aspects of the mainly basic and clinical (neuro)scientific research of the other members.

Current research projects

1) Psychosocial needs and coping strategies of single cancer patients (VLK, promotor: Prof. R. Deschepper, co-promotors: Prof. J. Bilsen and Prof. M. Grypdonck)

2) Sexuality in people with incurable chronic diseases (FWO, promotor: Prof. J. Bilsen, co-promotors: Prof. P. Enzlin, Prof. L. Peremans and Dr. V. Cocquyt)

3) Psychosocial problems and stigma among immigrant SSA women with AIDS in Belgium (VUB, promotor: Prof. R. Deschepper, co-promotor: Prof. J. Bilsen)

4) Critical medical decision making in an increasingly multicultural context of health care providers and patients (FWO, promotor: Prof. J. Bilsen, co-promotors: Prof. W. Distelmans and Prof. L. Huyghens)

5) Autonomy and rights of people in extreme dependency situations (HOA-VUB, promotor: Prof. S. Snacking, co-promotors: Prof. W. Distelmans, Prof. S. Gutwirth, Prof. P. De Hert and Prof. J. Bilsen)

6) Neurocognitive and psychosocial outcome of childhood brain tumor survivors (KBS, Promotor: Philippe Paquier, co-promotors: Anna Jansen, Johan Bilsen, Lieve Peremans, Patrick Van Bogaert )

7) Suicide Attempts in the Brussels-Capital Region: characteristics and care of suicide attempters in the emergency departments of hospitals in Brussels (Prospective Research for Brussels in 2013, promotor: Prof. J. Bilsen)

8) Assessment of pain and stress experiences in incompetent, sedated patients (VUB, promotor: Prof. R. Deschepper, co-promotor: Prof. J. Bilsen).

9) (Sexual) Cross-border behavior in mental healthcare (VUB, promotor: Prof. J. Bilsen)

Multidisciplinary group of researchers

Research on such a broad field, and starting from a bio-psycho-social model of health and disease can only be done properly by a multidisciplinary research team. The current team of researchers consists of: social health scientists, nurses, anthropologists, a sexologist, a sociologist, an ethicist, a lawyer, a public health physician, a master in health education and promotion, youth health physician, occupational health physician, neurologist, psychologists, and a psychiatrist. There is also a wide network of national and international cooperation in the field of public health and mental health, e.g. with several members of the ‘Word Federation for Mental Health’ and of the ‘Workgroup Mental Health of the European Public Health Association’ and the ‘Belgian Association of Public Health’.

Current members of the research group 'MENT'


-Bilsen Johan (Chair)
-Deschepper Reginald
-Hermans Veerle
-Peremans Lieve
-De Quint Pascale
-Jansen An
-Depoorter Annemarie (emeritus)

Postdoc researcher:

-Marc Roelands

Prédoc researchers:

-Matthys Frieda
-Benoot Charlotte
-Saelaert Marlies
-Vesentini Lara
-Van Keer Rose-Lima
-Arrey Agnes
-Vanclooster Stefanie


-Van den Broeck Diane


Centre for Neurosciences • Vrije Universiteit Brussels • ©2017 • •
Faculty of Medicine & Pharmacie • Laarbeeklaan 103 • 1090 Brussel, BELGIUM • Tel: +32 (2) 477 64 10
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