10 Reasons Why Friendships Are Important for Mental Health

Friendship gives you emotional support through the connection with people. Find out why friendships are important for mental health.

by Shona Yang

“A friend is what the heart needs all the time.” – Henry Van Dyke.

With the rise of social media platforms, we are theoretically more connected than ever. The reality often looks different however with research revealing that many of us will experience loneliness at some point in our lives. Loneliness and social isolation can be detrimental to our mental health and wellbeing. During the recent COVID-19 lockdown measures in parts of Australia, some people reported increased experiences of loneliness, social isolation and relationship breakdown.  

Building and maintaining healthy friendships can be an effective way to safeguard our mental health, helping enhance levels of happiness, manage feelings of loneliness and prevent social isolation. Here are 10 reasons why friendships are important for our mental wellbeing and practical ways we can boost the quality of our relationships.  

What is Mental Health?

The term “mental health” is often used to describe experiences of anxiety, depression and other serious conditions, but mental health is more than the absence of illness. Mental health is a holistic term encompassing an individual’s emotional, psychological and social well being. 

According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is defined as a state of wellbeing when an individual can: 

  1. Recognise their potential
  2. Cope with the normal stresses of life
  3. Work productively and fruitfully
  4. Contribute to their community.

Our mental health is important to every part of our life. From birth to adulthood, mental wellbeing affects every stage of our lives. When neglected, our mental health can have significant implications on our mood, decision-making skills, physical health, relationships, livelihoods and more. 

A range of internal and external factors, such as our friendships, can impact our mental health and wellbeing, and trigger the deterioration of our mental health. It’s essential to regulate our mental health as it can have a profound impact on our quality of life. 

Quick facts: Almost half of all Australian adults will experience mental ill-health at some point. People who live with mental health issues also have a heightened risk of physical illness, unemployment, homelessness and more. 

Suicide and Mental Health

In Australia, mental health conditions cost the Australian economy around $220 billion every year. Sadly, suicide – the loss of life or harm caused by oneself with the intent to die – remains a leading cause of death among Australians between 15 and 49.

Suicide deaths can be triggered by a range of factors including deteriorating mental health, social isolation, relationship breakdown and other life stressors such as financial hardship, and more. Suicide is a complex issue affecting our communities, and understanding mental health, engaging in meaningful conversations about mental health and continuing to check in with our loved ones can be an important steps in preventing suicide deaths. 

Do you need help or support?

If you are in an emergency or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24/7 confidential support from a trained Lifeline crisis supporter. 

How Healthy Friendships Boost Our Mental Health and Wellbeing

Humans are social beings who thrive in relationships. Human-to-human connection is critical to our health and wellbeing, and there is a strong correlation between the quality of our relationships and the level of happiness and contentment we feel in other parts of our life. 

When we experience relationship breakdown or extended periods of isolation from others, it can take a toll on our mental and physical health. For people of all ages and backgrounds, maintaining healthy friendships, feeling connected with a community and engaging in meaningful connections with other people can be vital sources of health and wellbeing. 

What Defines a ‘Healthy’ Friendship?

In the span of a lifetime, we can forge many different types of friendships. A healthy friendship with another person can be described as positive, supportive and mutually beneficial. 

“A sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” — Proverbs 27:9

Healthy friendships can be formed through common interests, shared experiences or proximity but like all good things in life, healthy friendships require hard work and investment. 

To assess whether a friendship is healthy, look out for the following characteristics:

  • Trust and honesty
  • Compassion and care
  • Mutual respect 
  • Companionship and enjoyment 
  • Practical and emotional support.  

Just as healthy friendships are beneficial for our mental health, unhealthy friendships can be detrimental, taking a hefty toll on our mental health and wellbeing. When we are involved in unhealthy friendships, it can lower our self esteem, damage our confidence, negatively impact our physical health, increase our levels of stress and intensify feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

10 Reasons Why Healthy Friendships are Important for Our Mental and Physical Health

Healthy friendships can be rare, but they are worth the effort and perseverance, enriching our lives and having a ton of psychological, emotional and physical health benefits. Here are ten (of the many) benefits of healthy friendships in our lives: 

1. Healthy Friendships Can Reduce Our Stress Levels

When we take a closer look at the physical effects of friendships on our bodies, healthy connections with people can impact the way our bodies respond to stress. Opening up to a friend or enjoying moments of laughter with a friend can have a calming effect, helping us regulate our stress levels.

2. We Can Regulate Negative Emotions With Help From Friends

During difficult life moments, friendships with people we trust and depend on can help build resilience and regulate complex emotions such as anger, frustration and disappointment.

3. Healthy Friendships Can Boost Our Self Esteem

Struggling with confidence or self-esteem? Supportive and nurturing friends can help us boost our self-confidence.

4. Healthy Friendships Provide a Sense of Belonging

Feeling a sense of belonging is a fundamental human need, ranking third in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Healthy and lasting friendships act as a support network and create a strong sense of belonging in individuals.

5. We Can Build Healthy Habits Through Our Friendships

Whether it’s working out together or joining a friend’s gym, friendships can often encourage individuals to swap harmful patterns with healthy habits. 

6. Healthy Friendships Help Us Improve Our Communication

Safe and trusted friendships can be a prime environment for individuals to practice healthy communication and conflict resolution methods. 

7. Healthy Friendships Can Create New Opportunities

Many of our friends may enjoy different experiences and interests. Friendships can provide us with the security and support to try new experiences, learn new things or meet new people. 

8. Healthy Friendships Can Improve Our Overall Health

Our friendships play an important role in shaping our overall health. Studies reveal a link between strong social connections with stronger immunity. Adults with healthy friendships are also likely to have a lower risk of developing depression, obesity or high blood pressure. 

9. Our Quality of Life Has Improved

Researchers have found that adults with healthy friendships and social support are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.

10. Healthy Friendships are Good for the Heart

We all experience levels of stress during our daily lives but friends can help us react in a healthy way. People without strong social support systems are prone to react negatively, increasing blood pressure and encouraging inflammation. Healthy friendships can help relieve stress, a well-known contributor to heart disease. Preliminary research has also revealed that older people who enjoy their friendships generally have fewer inflammatory chemicals in their blood.

Challenges to a Healthy Friendship 

Some of the happiest moments of our lives are marked by memories with our friends but with busy schedules and competing priorities, it can be challenging to build and maintain quality friendships. 

Social media platforms have created new ways for us to connect with people in our communities but it hasn’t fulfilled our need for meaningful connections with others. 

Healthy friendships aren’t defined by the absence of conflict but rather the way friends can overcome difficult situations. It can be important to look out for some of the factors that can damage or destroy healthy friendships including:

  • Distance and time zones
  • Busy schedules 
  • Different life stages 
  • Conflict 
  • Poor communication skills
  • Lack of respect or trust 
  • Dishonesty 
  • Social isolation
  • Feeling unheard or invalidated. 

7 Ways to Improve the Quality of Your Friendships

Healthy friendships are marked by quality rather than the number of casual or superficial friendships in our lives. From childhood to adulthood, friendships with different people can come and go. While you might develop casual friendships along the way, a healthy friendship with someone you can confide in, is precious and worth the effort. 

Whether you’re forging a new friendship, rekindling an old friendship or improving an existing friendship, here are seven tips to improve the health and quality of your friendships: 

1. Know the Difference Between Virtual and Actual Friendships

While there’s no problem with tagging a friend in a cat meme or exchanging emails, there’s no substitute for meeting in person. In a world saturated with social media and virtual connections, creating time to meet face-to-face can facilitate greater trust and strengthen our friendships.

2. Build Consistency

Creating a routine and carving out regular time slots to meet friends is an important way to deepen our friendships. Consistent meeting times can help boost trust and ensures that no matter how busy our lives get, we’ll always make time for our friends. 

3. Respect Each Other’s Time and Schedules

In adult friendships, life can feel busier by the day and it can be discouraging when we feel like our time is not respected. Try your best to avoid repeatedly being late to a planned event with a friend and when unexpected life events get in the way of time with our friends, allow plenty of time to reschedule.

4. Create Shared Memories

Saying ‘yes’ to new activities and trying new hobbies together can be an enjoyable way to create shared memories and strengthen our friendships. 

Tip: Stuck for ideas? Try a cooking class together or plan a spontaneous picnic with your friend. Get inspiration about local events on your Facebook events page too! 

5. Ask Intentional Questions

Learning more about each other deepens our trust and attachment with each other. Create opportunities for vulnerability and meaningful interactions with your friends by asking each other intentional questions about their interests, dreams, struggles, passions and more. 

Tip: Try a fun quiz together or get inspiration from online questions that build intimacy.  

6. Listen, Listen, Listen!

Feeling heard and validated is an important part of our friendships. Whether it’s big or small, look for opportunities to listen to our friends when they open up to us about their interests or deepest thoughts.  

7. Celebrate the Small and Big Wins

Friendships are a place of solace for many of us during difficult times but friendships should also be a source of strength and celebration. During life’s big or small milestones, make an effort to celebrate with your loved ones.   

Are you feeling disconnected, looking for support or need help attending community events? From personalised care plans to regular check-ins, our dedicated team of care professionals can provide you or a loved one with the friendship and care you need.

Provide the best care to your loved one today!

About the Writer
Shona Yang
Shona Yang is a freelance writer and content creator based in Sydney. She writes for charities, startups and other organisations and is passionate about human rights and minority voices. In between walking her Beagle and drinking coffee, Shona loves to travel.
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