Friends can provide companionship and support. The connections you make through relationships, places, or activities, can build a safety net for your physical and mental health. The beauty of friendship is that it works both ways. Giving support to a friend can be as good for your mental health and wellbeing as receiving it.
When you know that a friend will listen to your problems and accept you just as you are, it can make you feel stronger and more grounded. Talking things through, reflecting, expressing your feelings and emotions with a friend can help you work through what is troubling you. Sitting with a friend and sharing your thoughts can be a great release.
Eating well, going for a walk, chatting, watching a movie, and doing the activities you normally enjoy are all examples of activities you can do with friends. Just taking time to spend with friends lets them know you care, and helps you understand what they are dealing with.
You may thrive on having many friends, or you may prefer being close to only one or two people. It may take some time to find what works for you, as everyone is different.
Friendships are dynamic; you can become closer or more distant with time. The tough part is that making new friends and keeping up with old ones can sometimes feel more difficult if you’re struggling with your mental health. If you feel comfortable, you could share your challenges and vulnerability with others. By giving a little of yourself, you encourage openness and give the other person permission to be open with you. You can then help support each other when things are tough for either of you.
One of the biggest things I've learnt over my life is how important love and acceptance is. Talking to others, and hearing them too, is a very validating experience.
A year or two after being diagnosed with depression, I started to open up more to friends and women in my mothers’ group. I discovered that some of them were also dealing with depression or other mental health issues. Now I don’t have any reluctance to talk about it, because you never know who else is affected and we all need that extra support.
The most beneficial thing that one of my friends did was to learn as much as they could about eating disorders. It busted through all the myths that commonly surround it. They actually got what it was like and understood what I was experiencing. That was really, really helpful. Just to be able to talk to someone who actually understood how I felt.
My daughter has got some very close friends who have stuck by her when she became unwell. Having this kind of support is so important.
My best friend still lives in Papua New Guinea, but we are in constant contact thanks to social media. We speak almost every day. He's been really supportive over the years.
Support for friends
Healthy friendships are extremely important for any person’s mental health and play a key role in helping us cope with life’s challenges. In fact, strong, healthy friendships can have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing.
Avoiding unhealthy friendships that are one-sided or exploitative can help protect your self-worth and mental health.
When someone is living with a mental illness, friends often provide support and comfort. Having someone around who is ready to listen in an open, accepting, and non-judgemental way can make all the difference. Spending time with your friend and providing a sense of belonging may be more helpful for them than you realise.
If you want to support a friend, but you're not sure where to start, take a look at our page on how to support someone. We also have pages on support for carers.
It's important to look after yourself and make healthy choices that can help you to feel good. There are ideas on keeping well on our meaningful life section on this website.
We also have resources below to help you get started.
A closer look
Social connectedness is a crucial aspect of mental wellbeing
Studies find that stress and emotions like sadness and worry decrease in the company of friends, compared with being alone or even with families. 1 in 4 men aged 30-65 years have no one beyond their immediate family they feel they can depend on. A network of close friends is the second most happiness-inducing factor in life beyond a happy intimate relationship. (Source 1) (Source 2) (Source 3) (Source 4)
Stereotypes can be a barrier for someone reaching out for help
Experiences of stigma for those living with a mental illness can lead to isolation, discrimination at work or with friends, and a relapse or decline of their condition. In some cases, stigma can be more harmful than the mental illness itself. It can also prevent a person from seeking support due to worries over how people in their networks—family, friends, co-workers—will react. (Source)
Having friends may make you feel less anxious
Research suggests that people who connect with friends may produce less of the stress hormone called cortisol. Similarly, those who socialise less and feel lonely or isolated tend to have higher cortisol levels, which can lead to symptoms of anxiety. (Source)
Live longer and healthier with a network of friends
People who have more social support have a better quality of life, and are healthier and less prone to accidents, depressive symptoms, or suicide. (Source)
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool (opens in a new tab).