The Health Benefits of Friendship

The Health Benefits of Friendship

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girls-jumping-lake.jpg Friendship comes in many forms, and it is not necessary for everyone to have a large social circle to reap the benefits. In fact, it turns out that having just one close friend provides psychological and physical rewards, including a longer life and increased feelings of connectedness.

A Mental Health Minute by Cristina Frick

Thanks to Alison Tunnicliff for the idea for this story!

Friendship provides multiple health rewards, including a greater immunity to disease. It has also been shown to reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to greater feelings of relaxation. Because of this, friendships are helpful when people are recovering from illness or depression.

In fact, friendship can be as helpful for reducing symptoms of depression as various clinical treatments. In one study, depressed women who met regularly with a confidante assigned by a researcher experienced a greater remission in symptoms than women in a control group. They also experienced similar benefits to others (not participants in the study) who received cognitive therapy and antidepressants. However, it is important to note that you should see a therapist if you feel you are seriously depressed.

Friendship appears to have particularly notable benefits for women, helping them to gain self-esteem and validation through their social interactions. It also causes an increase in happiness and decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and overeating.

Men can benefit too. One study showed a correlation between friendship and a decrease in heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease in men. This may be because men who have close social ties have better access to health services and care.

If you are facing obstacles, friends can help them seem more surmountable. In one notable study, students were taken to the bottom of friends-sun.jpga hill carrying backpacks and asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. Participants who stood next to friends estimated that the hill was less steep than students who stood alone. The friends who had known each other the longest gave the least steep estimate. This study suggests that social support makes difficult tasks seem more manageable.

Here are some tips for making — and keeping — good friends.

  • Make friends a priority over other interests – arrange dates throughout the year
  • Focus on the positive and not petty details (such as someone owing you money)
  • Make an effort to be there for a friends, especially in bad times

Friendship is one of our greatest gifts. It is important to invest in deep and long-lasting friendships and to make them a priority in your life.

Read an April 2009 feature in the New York Times: What Are Friends For? A Longer Life

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IMPORTANT MESSAGE: If you are feeling depressed or think you might be suffering from a mental illness, the APA website offers a listing of therapists in every state. If you are feeling suicidal, or if you know someone who is, (warning signs include marked changes in sleeping or eating patterns, profound sadness or expressions of hopelessness, giving away belongings/saying goodbye to others, and a sudden and inexplicable lifting of depression because the person may mistakenly feel they have found “a way out”), please get help. Call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)or 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is help and hope available. You can get better- suicide is not the answer for your pain. Please call now.  

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pink-rose.jpgCristina Frick is a contributing writer and volunteer editor at the Good News Network since 2006. She is currently completing her Master’s degree in Clinical and Community Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and plans to gradute in December. View a list of all of Cristina’s articles here — including previous columns in her Mental Health Minute series.

 

COMMENTS

  1. Dear Cristina:

    Great article! Very interesting that even one friend can make such a health difference. Other articles imply that you must have a big social circle — something very discouraging to those searching for friends — so it is good to hear that people needing new friendship circles can “think small” initially.

    Cordially,
    Robin

  2. Hi Robin,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment:-) One of my best and oldest friends, Alison Tunnicliff, gave me the idea for this story, particularly the part about the psychological importance of having one close friend or confidante to confide in.

    Thanks and have a great day!:-)

    Cristina

  3. Thanks for the comment Geri:-) My boyfriend Brad as well as my mom, grandpa, family, and friends are great sources of support for me. My dad and grandma were also great sources of support for me when they were alive, and they continue to be great sources of support for me even though they have passed away. I am so grateful for and thank God for their support:-) I love all you guys- thanks for always being awesome and supportive!!:-)

  4. So I finally got to read it. Great job, Sis, I enjoyed reading it. Who would have thought what I observed in my life would actually have been proven in at least three studies? LOL

    And a note to Robin if you ever read this: Although I’ve had lots of close friends over the years, Cristina’s the one who has stuck by me since I was five years old and my biggest concern was starting kindergarten (we are 10 months apart so she had already been through it). Even then having someone like her to talk to was great because it gave me someone to look up to, and for her, she was able to be both a friend and a teacher, which I think was a self-esteem booster for her in some ways.

    I think it’s good to have a lot of friends who you can hang out with and do stuff with, but I think it’s also really important that you have at least one or two friends who you can really connect with and talk to on a deeper level. Most of our friendship is based on conversations, because we have lived in different states for 16 of the last 18 years. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, Cristina–God knows I talk to you more than I’ve talked to the friends who I see on a regular basis! LOL 🙂

    Great article. Have you considered doing one on the benefits of long-term friendships? 😀

  5. Hey Sis!!!:-) Thanks so much for reading my article and for giving me the idea for it lol. You have always been there fore me too- when my dad died, whenever there was a big decision I needed to make in my life, or if I just needed to talk. I think having you as a friend/practically a sister has definitely improved my mental health:-) I thank God for all of you guys, and I don’t know what in the world I would do without you guys- thanks for always being awesome, and I will talk to you soon!:-)

    P.S. Also, an article about the benefits of long-term friendships sounds great- I will have to ask Geri about it:-) Drive safe and take care, Sis- love you all, and please tell everyone hi and my mom and I love and miss you guys!:-)