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PhD Defence Sander de Vos | Understanding mental well-being in the face of adversity - A scientific exploration in eating disorder patients

Understanding mental well-being in the face of adversity - A scientific exploration in eating disorder patients

Due to the COVID-19 crisis the PhD defence of Sander de Vos will take place (partly) online.

The PhD defence can be followed by a live stream.

Sander de Vos is a PhD student in the research group Psychology, Health & Technology (PGT). His supervisors are prof.dr. G.J. Westerhof and prof.dr. E.T. Bohlmeijer from the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences (BMS).

This thesis explores mental well-being in eating disorder patients. Well-being can be explained as a concept encompassing positive aspects of mental health and is often divided into emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Emotional well-being is about positive affect and life satisfaction. Psychological well-being encompasses self-acceptance, positive relationships, autonomy, personal growth, environmental mastery, and a feeling of purpose and meaning in life. Social well-being is about optimal functioning in a societal context.

In the last decades, studies on eating disorders have primarily focused on understanding pathology and what works for achieving remission of symptoms. This has resulted in a body of knowledge about eating disorders, such as their representation, prevalence, relations with other psychiatric disorders, aetiology, course of the illness, and treatments' effectiveness and efficacy.

However, mental health definitions, such as postponed by the World Health Organization (WHO), show that the absence of psychopathological symptoms is insufficient for experiencing adequate mental health. Mental health is also about the presence of mental well-being. The role of mental well-being in eating disorder patients has hardly been studied. In this thesis, we explore mental well-being from several perspectives in eating disorder patients. We explore what people with lived experience of an eating disorder consider as criteria for recovery and find that many criteria are about psychological well-being in addition to symptom remission. We also examine how eating disorder patients experience mental well-being and compare this with the general population. We find several patient characteristics related to the experience of mental well-being. In the last parts of the thesis, we examine the development of mental well-being over time during outpatient treatment and study reciprocal relationships with psychopathology. An overview of the questions and the answers we were able to provide based on our studies can be found in the last chapter (discussion).

The digital version of the thesis can be found here: