Friendship and mental health
February 03, 2022
This article covers:
- What is friendship?
- Friendship and mental health
- What to do or where to get help?
What is friendship?
A friend is someone other than a relative or partner that you like to talk to and spend time with. Friendship refers to a relationship between two or more friends.
Friendship involves shared positive feelings, closeness, respect, trust, and care for one another. It provides the opportunity to have someone to confide in and do activities such as going out to eat, for a walk, a movie, and attending events.
Friendship can develop in different areas in life, such as at school, work, in the community, within the family, between neighbours and online. Friendships can last for a short period of time or for many years.
Friendships can change overtime, as you grow and experience different situations you might find that your friendships can change overtime. For example, this might be in your level of closeness to friends, your views about friendships and the number of friends you have.
Positive mental health
Friendships are very important for mental health and well-being. There is a lot of research to show that being socially connected promotes mental health and physical health. Having positive friendships can have protective benefits for mental health, that can include:
- Higher self-esteem
- Sense of self-worth and belonging
- Feeling valued and supported
- Not feeling lonely
- Improved motivation
- Positive mood
During difficult times, friends have allowed me to express how I feel with no judgement. They act as a sounding board and help me to think about things from different perspectives. They validate my emotions but also support me in terms of thinking about how to move forward and what might help me – this helps me feel better because I know I’m not alone even when times are extremely difficult.
Katie – Mindsum Peer Support worker
Poor mental health
Just as positive friendships impact mental health, negative friendships can also affect mental health. You might have friends that do not treat you well by behaving in ways that are unhelpful or that leave you feeling bad most of the time. These behaviours might include:
- Regularly making comments that are hurtful
- Ignoring you during the times you need their support
- Reaching out to you only when they want something
- Not respecting your boundaries
- Always being in conflict with you and/or others
- Excluding you on purpose
- Rarely putting as much effort as you do
These toxic friendships can affect your self-esteem and lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. If you have friendships like this, you have the power to decide whether or not this needs to change.
Poor mental health can also impact on friendships. Research suggests that higher rates of mental illness is associated with more isolation, loneliness, and social rejection amongst young people. Living with a mental illness can make it difficult for you to cope in social situations or to have the motivation to interact with friends. This can be especially difficult if you struggle with a less common mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression).
If you are struggling in the area of friendship or loneliness, there are different things that you can do that might help. You don’t need to struggle with this alone.
If you don’t have many friends that’s okay. As long as you have a few you can lean on and if not explore how you might make new friends, friends don’t always have to be the people you have known since being young or at school. This might happen by starting volunteering, looking for a part time job and making friends there or joining a new community group.
Katie – Mindsum Peer Support worker
What to do and where to get help
If you are struggling to the point that you are having thoughts of hurting yourself, please call 999 as soon as possible. Here are some things that you can keep in mind that might help you when it comes to friendships:
- Prioritise healthy friendships – focus on the friends that support you and show that they have your best interest at heart.
- Resolve conflicts- it is normal to experience conflict in any relationship, including friendships. Learn to deal with conflict through finding healthy and productive ways to move forward.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself- it doesn’t feel good to struggle in the area of friendships or with loneliness. Many young people don’t like to admit struggling with this and might feel embarrassed about it. In reality, many people including adults struggle with this. So, be gentle with yourself and recognise that building good friendships take time and patience.
- Join a group or class- if you want to meet new people it is a good idea to join a club or a class, where it is easy to meet and interact with other people. This might include a cooking class, language class, sports group, exercise class, dance club etc.
- Frequent places of your interest- choose to spend time in places where you can meet people with the same interests as you. This will improve your chances of being able to connect with new people.
- Be a good friend too- it is important to try and achieve the same standard you set for others, that way you are more likely to attract friends with the same qualities.
Working with a counsellor or therapist can also help you in improving your confidence and making friends. You can learn practical ways of approaching social situations and improving your relationships with others.
You can book a free initial consultation with a qualified mental health professional through our online service.
You can read and access resources about friendships on the NHS Children and adolescent mental health service website. Click here to access the link.
Mental Health Foundation
You can read and access resources about friendship and mental health on the Mental Health Foundation website. Click here to access the link.
You can read information about helping a friend with their mental health on the Young Minds website. Click here to access the link.