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Bullying victimisation through an interpersonal lens: focussing on social interactions and risk for depression

PhD ceremony:M. (Minita) Franzen, MSc
When:February 10, 2022
Supervisor:prof. dr. P.J. (Peter) de Jong
Co-supervisor:dr. M. (Marije) aan het Rot
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences
Bullying victimisation through an interpersonal lens: focussing on
social interactions and risk for depression

Many people - children, adolescents, and adults – have bullying experiences. Individuals who have been bullied have a higher chance for developing mental health problems, specifically depression, compared to peers without bullying experiences. These symptoms tend to persist even after the bullied individuals have left the bullying environment. As it is still rather unclear why and how bullied individuals have an increased depression risk, in this dissertation, I examined whether their interpersonal functioning may help explain how they develop depression.

I found that bullied adolescents experienced social interactions more negatively, perceived other’s intentions as more hostile, and had more hostile traits than adolescents without these bullying experiences. Concerning their interpersonal functioning after transitioning out of high school (i.e., the assumed bullying environment), I found that the differences between the two groups became smaller. Nevertheless, when in a social situation with a dominant person, who might have reminded them of past experiences with dominant bullies, the previously bullied individuals reported less adaptive reactions, suggesting a certain interpersonal stress-sensitivity.

Finally, when testing if interpersonal traits can actually explain their increased depression symptoms, I found that hostile traits of bullied individuals explained about a third of their increased risk. Therefore, I found some evidence for the view that interpersonal characteristics may contribute to the development of depression in individuals who have been bullied. Together, the pattern of findings also suggests that addressing their interpersonal functioning by means of interventions could help prevent interpersonal conflicts and the development of mental health problems.