Good friends and mental health go hand-in-hand as healthy friendships often bless us with support and resilience in the face of stressors and negative developmental experiences like trauma and personal loss.
Who Do We Call A Friend?
A friend is someone we usually find pleasing to be with and friendships are often described as “psychological vaccines 1”.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines friendship as “a voluntary relationship between two or more people 2”. Friendships involve a give-and-take that is characteristic of most social relationships. They develop through factors such as:
- Shared experiences
- Mutual respect
- Mutual bonhomie
- Mutual gratification
- Mutual want of companionship, etc.
Why Are Friends Important?
Friends and mental health have time and again been linked 3 to each other. Moreover, the power of friendship is central to:
- Developing a broad worldview
- Developing healthy thought and behavior patterns
- Learning vital life skills
- Developing a healthy learning process and navigating through developmental changes
- Defining priorities
- Developing effective support systems
- Creating and sustaining useful networks
- Enjoying the physical and psychological benefits of friendship (like better heart health, greater mental well-being, etc.)
Types Of Friends
Research 4 shows that friendship styles and patterns are widely influenced by factors like socioeconomic status, gender, health, network types, ideologies, personal preferences, etc. The most common types of friendships include:
1. Discerning Friendship Style
This type of friendship is characterized by group proximity, emotional closeness, and long-term tenure. Examples include childhood friendships or friendships between cousins in a family. Considered the most prevalent, this kind of friendship is good for mental health too.
2. Independent Friendship Style
The independent friendship style is based on casual socialization and social formality. It is highly common among colleagues at work or neighbors and is characterized by its large group size and brief tenure.
3. Selectively Acquisitive Friendship Style
Selectively acquisitive friends base their friendships on strategic networking, resource acquisition, and circumstantial factors. Such friendships are fleeting and brief.
4. Unconditionally Acquisitive Friendship Style
This type of friendship is characterized by its large group size, varying tenures, and a wide range of differences in the degree of friendship. The emotional closeness differs from friend to friend as this group is more focused on socializing than emotional support.
How Do Friendships Impact Mental Health?
Emerging research 3 affirms the long-term and consequential impact of friendship on mental health. Healthy friendships have been proven to have many physiological and psychological benefits. They not only fulfill our social and emotional needs but also maintain our self-esteem and help us in our journey of growth and development.
Can Friendship Be Bad For You?
As much as good friendships make our lives better, bad and toxic friendships can drain our mental resources and have a negative effect on our health.
Certain friendships, especially during childhood and adolescence 5 can be a bad influence, often driving youngsters to engage in substance abuse, delinquent behavior, and other harmful activities. Children are likely to imitate 6 their friends’ behaviors, which is why good-quality friendships are crucial during the developing years.
Bad Friends Vs Toxic Friends
All friendships have their ups and downs. A good friend, on a bad day, can also be unsupportive or emotionally distant. A friendship can be “bad” if it is not helping you grow or benefiting you in any way. However, such “bad friends” are not the same as toxic friends.
Toxic friends are characterized by their:
- Ill intent and approach
- Exploitative nature
- Abandonment and neglect
- Emotional abuse, etc.
Nobody is a perfect friend. As humans, all of us tend to make mistakes in our relationships. However, most of us apologize to our friends and rectify our behavior. Toxic friends, however, have a pattern of negativity that never really dies down.
They don’t show much regret or inclination to change, even when they realize they made you feel bad. These relationships, in fact, represent a rather negative correlation between friends and mental health.
Read More About Relationships Here
How To Maintain Healthy Friendships
Sometimes, we may not realize that we are being a bad friend or are stuck in a bad friendship. It can thus be helpful to check on ourselves and our friendships once in a while.
Consider the following tips for maintaining healthy friendships:
- Create and capitalize on quality time together.
- Communicate honestly and openly with your friends.
- Establish clear boundaries and respect your friends’ boundaries as well.
- Show your care by checking on them and being there for them.
- Share responsibilities and duties that ensure the well-being of all parties involved in the friendship.
- Do not hesitate to distance yourself from people who are toxic for you.
The significance of good friends for mental health is undeniable. However, not all friendships are good in their intent or sustainable. While some friendships may fade out gradually, the important ones can last a lifetime—as a source of happiness and unconditional support. This is why it is essential to identify good friends and make efforts to keep them in your life while letting the toxic ones go.
At A Glance
- Friendships are considered one of the core pillars of social relationships and a vital aspect of our lives.
- Having a good, reliable, and close friend can add value to our lives and make us happier and healthier.
- This is a unique relationship that is rooted in unconditional love, acceptance, trust, and mutual respect.
- Good friends and mental health go hand-in-hand.
- Healthy friendships are essential for our psychological, emotional, and physical well-being.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How does mental illness affect friendships?
Friendship and mental health have a bidirectional relationship, in that each can affect the other. Mental disorders are accompanied by negative thought patterns and unpleasant behaviors that may hurt others and disrupt friendships. People suffering from psychiatric conditions frequently experience loneliness and isolation as a consequence of broken relationships.
2. How to make good friends?
A good strategy to make friends is by joining or forming a group of people who share similar interests as you. Being nice to others and having the inclination to help others are qualities that can make you a good friend.
- King, A., Russell, T., & Veith, A. (2016). Friendship and Mental Health Functioning Friendship and Mental Health Functioning. Available from: https://commons.und.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1019&context=psych-fac [↩]
- American Psychological Association. (2014). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Available from: https://dictionary.apa.org/ [↩]
- Cleary, M., Lees, D., & Sayers, J. (2018). Friendship and Mental Health. Issues in mental health nursing, 39(3), 279–281. https://doi.org/10.1080/01612840.2018.1431444 [↩][↩]
- Miche, M., Huxhold, O., & Stevens, N. L. (2013). A latent class analysis of friendship network types and their predictors in the second half of life. The journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences, 68(4), 644–652. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbt041 [↩]
- Berndt, T. J. (1992). Friendship and friends’ influence in adolescence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 1(5), 156–159. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.ep11510326 [↩]
- Berndt, T. J. (2002). Friendship quality and social development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(1), 7–10. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.00157 [↩]