Human beings are social beings. Having good friends and friendships groups is certainly important for our mental health, for a sense of belonging and for socialisation.
However, is it absolute that friendships are always good for well-being? When are there times when a friend could be bad for our mental health?
In this post, we explore the role of friendship and what to consider when it comes to your own mental health and wellbeing.
The Role Of Friends And Mental Well-Being
According to the Mental Health Foundation , “Friendship is a crucial element in protecting our mental health.”
There are many reasons why. Friends can help us feel secure, loved and wanted. They can also be the first people we feel we can turn to when we are in trouble, something is worrying us or we are suffering with a health issues, both physical and mental.
Having good, trustworthy and reliable friends is important as they can, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Increase your sense of belonging and purpose
- Boost your happiness and reduce your stress
- Improve your self-confidence and self-worth
- Help you cope with trauma
- Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits
When Friendships Are Good For Mental Well-Being
Whilst having friends is generally considered good for our mental health, it is important that each friend and our core friendship group are positively influencing us.
Friendships are good for mental health especially when you know spending time with your friends is going to make you feel good about yourself. Socialising may include fun, laughter and silly antics, or simply just a meaningful chat. Being able to ‘let off steam’ in a safe environment leads to a good feeling. However, it is important that friendships are balanced, that you feel there is an ‘equal partnership’.
Friendships are also great when you are surrounded by people who truly support and trust you (trust should also go both ways). A close friend who is there for you and, importantly, to really listen when you need to share any worries or concerns is a wonderful ‘mental health tool’. They are people who you feel you can share anything with.
When Friendships Are Bad For Our Mental Well-Being
Friends come in ‘all shapes and sizes’! There are also often varying degrees to how close or how trusted you may feel a friend is. For those who you consider having closest friendships, it is important that these people, in particular, have a positive effect on your mental health and well-being. If they do not, then instead of all of the positive effects mentioned above, a friendship can actually have negative effects on your mental health.
Be aware of toxic friendships. These are friendships were people you spend time with do not make you feel good about yourself. It can be very difficult to know what to do, particularly if you have had this friend for a long time, but it is important to assess if a certain friendship, group or set of friend is having a negative effect on your mental health.
These friendship types are, for example, friendships which are competitive, leave you feeling inferior or feeling constantly let down. Friends who are unreliable or dishonest, even if there are plenty of apologies; or mean and hurtful, which is passed off as sarcasm; can be make you feel very low. This is particularly the case if you spend a lot of time within this friendship.
It is also important to consider if a friendship is giving you what you need. There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first sometimes. We mentioned ‘having fun’ above, but if ‘fun’ means spending more than you can afford; or drinking or smoking more than you feel comfortable with; or regularly doing any other activity you don’t enjoy; then this type of friendship can be providing more cons for your well being, than pros!
You may also have friends who feel they need to advise you on how to live your life or what to do in a given situation. Whilst in both scenarios, honest and trustworthy friends may be doing what they think you like or what is right for you, it’s ok to take time to assess what is actually best for you and make your own decisions.
If you feel a certain friendship is not a positive for your mental health, then it is important to consider what you can do to rectify and improve the situation, including speaking to the friend about how you feel or taking some time out.
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