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 a 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
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.
Cristina 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.