The BBHI obtains a project to study the biological and psychological mechanisms determining that some people are more resilient to adversity

The Agency for the Management of University and Research Grants of the Generalitat de Catalunya has awarded an 18-months project to collect new medical, mental health and lifestyle data on 2,600 people who have been followed during the Covid-19 pandemic


The BBHI is one of the winners of the PANDEMIAS 2020 call of the Agency for Management of University and Research Grants (AGAUR) of the Secretary for Universities and Research of the Department of Enterprise and Knowledge of the Generalitat de Catalunya. The study presented by BBHI aims to identify during 18 months psychobiological markers that determine some people are more resilient having more capacity to cope with adverse situations than others. This identification may lead to the development of predictive models to determine which people are more susceptible to mental and brain health consequences in similar situations in the future.

One of the main threats of SARS-CoV-2 to public health, that also affects all segments of the population, is the psychological and psychosocial sequelae of restraint measures such as confinements. “These restrictions have already been associated with the emergence of symptoms such as fear, depression, insomnia or suicidal ideation, as well as with an increase in feelings such as loneliness, among others,” explains the principal investigator of the BBHI and professor at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the University of Barcelona, David Bartrés-Faz. “However, certain individuals and social groups have been detected to be apparently more resilient and relatively protected against psychological sequelae. What we want to study is what these individuals and groups have that the rest do not,” he adds.


Psychological, cultural, social and structural factors

According to the researchers, resilience is determined by psychological aspects –such as stress management skills or self-esteem–, cultural factors and lifestyle habits, including social activity, nutrition or sleep. In addition, several neuroimaging and neurophysiology studies have already shown that the functioning of brain areas and networks plays an important role in the adaptation of individuals to adverse events.

“Most research in this field has collected data after the onset of the pandemic, and capturing data from a single time point,” says Bartrés-Faz. In contrast, BBHI has data on the habits, mood and social activity of 2,600 people from 2 years prior to the onset of SARS-CoV-2, and the same data also collected at different times during the pandemic. In addition, the study performed extensive medical tests (brain MRI, EEG, neuropsychological assessment, blood tests and stress test) on 700 of the participants.

Now, the project plans to send monthly questionnaires to the cohort of 2,600 people, in addition to repeating the medical tests on all 700 participants, to detect possible developments in brain structures over time. In addition, 150 people in the sample have at some point been diagnosed with Covid-19, so the study plans to investigate the long-term effects of the virus on mental and brain health.

The researchers advocate that the results will be transferable to the study of resilience in different contexts other than Covid-19, such as natural disasters. “It is estimated that almost 30% of the general population will suffer some form of stress or anxiety during their lifetime, so identifying factors that promote resilience can help to develop prevention and public health surveillance measures in certain sectors of the population identified as more vulnerable,” concludes Bartrés-Faz.