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Happy Friends, Positive Minds!

Longitudinal research into the effectiveness of a depression prevention programme for girls in early adolescence

With the entry into force of the Appropriate Education Act (Wet Passend Onderwijs) in 2014, a duty of care for school boards has come into effect. The duty of care is one of the policy instruments used by the government to bring about improvements in the system for pupils with specific educational needs. In concrete terms, this means that a school must provide appropriate education and support for pupils.

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Project description

Worldwide, no less than forty percent of all girls suffer from anxiety complaints during adolescence and twenty percent suffer from symptoms of depression. The prevalence of these internalising problems increases explosively in girls in early adolescence. The impact of internalising problems on girls' daily functioning is enormous. Girls with internalising problems run a higher risk of developing learning difficulties, worsening of their school performance and dropping out of school early, which reduces the opportunities for further education and their opportunities on the labour market. Moreover, the presence of internalising problems during adolescence is highly predictive of a lifelong presence of anxiety and depression. Long-term suffering from anxiety and depression is also predictive of problematic use of alcohol, drugs and medication as well as suicide. The prevention of internalising problems in young girls is therefore high on the central government's agenda.

Friendships between girls are on the one hand an important source of support, but can also be a breeding ground for the development of internalising problems. The lectorate Prevention for Youth investigates the way in which the context of friendships between girls influences the development of internalising problems, and develops prevention programmes that can have a positive impact on the maladaptive dynamics present in those friendships. Co-rumination turns out to play an important role in the way girls talk to each other about their worries and problems. Co-rumination refers to excessively discussing problems and negative emotions and feelings in the context of a dyadic relationship, for example with a best or close friend. Girls who co-ruminate urge each other intensively to talk about feelings of doubt, uncertainty and fear, focus excessively on negative feelings, constantly and extensively reflect on all aspects of negative events and gradually spend more and more time on them. We know from scientific research that co-rumination increases explosively during early adolescence among girls, is associated with the development of symptoms of depression, and increases the risk of 'infection' of internalising symptoms among girls. We therefore consider co-rumination to be an important target for prevention.

Co-rumination within friendships is a complex problem for secondary schools. School professionals indicate that co-ruminating girls are much less of a focus of their pupil care than girls who do not have friends or are being bullied at school. Because co-rumination takes place within close friendships in which girls share a lot and at the same time take more emotional distance from adults (parents, teachers), it is complicated for schools to identify high-risk girls in time. Where schools do have these girls in their sights, it is difficult for school professionals to support girls in reversing co-rumination patterns. This is because the pleasant feeling of close connection during the co-rumination process reinforces their connection, making them less motivated to think and practice with adaptive forms of communication about their worries and problems.

It is important that schools are provided with an effective depression prevention programme that uses the dyadic relationship between co-ruminating girls as the focus of intervention. Described action embarrassment, and the fact that schools need to move from curation to prevention in tackling depression, has resulted in the Happy Friends, Positive Minds – secondary education edition. The participating partnerships need an accessible prevention programme that can easily be incorporated into existing care structures in schools. In addition, the schools attach great importance to the fact that the tools they receive to support girls are tailor-made and do justice to the individual differences between girls. Such a programme does not yet exist and is being developed with the help of NRO funds and researched for effectiveness.

New developments: Happy Friends, Positive Minds – primary education edition

An initial exploratory analysis by our consortium shows that primary school teachers and staff within youth care also recognise co-rumination as a problem among girls of primary school age. However, based on scientific research we still know very little about co-rumination among primary school girls. Does this also play a role in the development of symptoms of depression? We think so, but research into this is lacking. With a new RAAK-PRO application we would like to apply for a subsidy for a four-year research project on co-rumination in primary school girls.

Link to education

Both studies are embedded in the School of Education, the School of Social Work and the Honours Programme of Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and offer space for internships and thesis positions.

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