Self Help

Importance of Friendships and Their Impact on Mental Health

“The importance of a good friend is entirely unmatchable” Look around yourselves and see the people you surround yourself with. What impact have they had or not had in your lives? People with high-quality friendships are likely to think of incidents where their friends pulled them out of a dire situation and supported them during their tough times. Research published in 1999 has indicated that adolescents with ‘mutual friendships’ tend to score higher on well-being scales than those who do not.

Friendships are an essential component of living a healthy life. Aristotle, known as The Philosopher, has given the very famous quote “Man is a social animal”. According to Aristotle, humans are inherently social and thus strive to form connections and bonds with other people. Friends are an extremely important form of support every individual requires especially when we are developing, that is during adolescence and pre-adolescence. A recent discussion with Dr. Arvind Otta provides us with a closer look at this phenomenon.

Read More: Why are Human Beings called Social Animals?

Interview with Dr. Arvind Otta

An insightful discussion took place in an interview conducted by CNBC with author and psychologist, Dr. Arvind Otta highlights the importance of not just friendships, but good friendships in a person’s life and the impact they have on a person’s mental health. Good quality friendships can help alleviate psychological distress. Dr. Otta expanded further on this:

Lesser Risk of Developing Illnesses

Dr. Otta asserted that good quality friendships can actually lessen the possibility of developing mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, avoidant personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. If an individual is biologically predisposed to developing such an illness, loneliness or lack of support during tough times can lead to them developing these illnesses.

A very recent research published in 2021 by Hards supports this view as it reviewed literature done on the relationship between loneliness and mental health disorders in children and adolescents and found out that loneliness can be a major factor in developing a mental illness, this increases when isolation is mandatory as was in the case of COVID-19. This can be fought off by contact both online and in person.

Increase of Positive Hormonal changes in the body

According to Dr. Otta, good quality friendships equip us not just to handle tough situations but also to live a happier life. Being happy leads to positive hormonal changes in the body such as an increase of serotonin which is the hormone that controls your mood and makes you feel more pleasant as well as works towards your well-being, dopamine provides you with pleasure and satisfaction, endorphins are released during time of pain to alleviate hurt and stress, and oxytocin is informally called the ‘hormone of love’ and helps in making you feel warm and pleasant. All these hormones are called ‘happy hormones’ for shorthand. Lower levels of any of these have been linked to illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Support and Resilience

Social support can be of five different types as laid out by Cutrona and Suhr, these are namely informational (knowledge, advice, experiential accounts), emotional (love, affection, empathy), tangible (financial aid), esteem (enhancing skills and abilities), and social network (integrate the person into a particular community and make them feel belonged). Dr. Otta says that friendship can provide all kinds of support to an individual which is necessary.

Read More: The Psychology Behind Long-Lasting Friendships

Furthermore, we all go through periods of stress and trauma. Life has a lot of ups and downs. Dr Otta suggests that friendships become essential in getting through these periods of stress and trauma. Loneliness can lead to prolonged periods of stress! Research published in 2022 with 754 Chinese adolescents supports this view as the results have suggested that strong social support plays a protective role when it comes to encountering traumatic events.

Quality Of Friendships

“One bad fish can dirty the whole pond” is an extremely famous idiom that has been in use for decades and it rings as true as when it was first used. Dr. Otta constantly highlights the quality of friendships in the interview. Quantity of friends won’t mean anything if those closest to you won’t be there when you need them. 

There are certain characteristics one expects a good friend to have. These include qualities such as empathy, support, non-judgement, unconditional love and affection, trust and many more. There may also be certain characteristics that are subjective to you and are something you would want and not any other. Research suggests that good quality friendships also help in adjustment to social surroundings in the early stages of adolescence.

However, is there a difference between a good person and a good friend? According to Dr. Otta, the answer is a simple no. A good person will guide you in a better, more moral way while a good friend with bad qualities might lead to a worse part which may not be the best for you. We tend to pick up and sometimes even mirror our closest friend’s qualities and attributes especially when we are younger and still finding ourselves. Thus, it is extremely important to assess the kind of person we are making friends with.

Read More: Importance of Boundaries in Friendship

There happens to be gender differences here as well. Back in 1999, research was conducted amongst late adolescent men and women to measure the quality of friendship. Among other positive results, the findings also indicated that women tend to rate their friends higher based on the personal connections and positive qualities they attribute to them than men who usually rate their friends based on friendship functions they serve.

Inculcating Good Friendships

Surrounding yourself with good people and good friendships is extremely important for your mental health and personal growth. Dr. Arvind Otta emphasises the need to recognise and foster good friendships, especially in adolescent years.

Erik Erikson, one of the most renowned child psychoanalysts, in his theory of psychosocial development, asserted that during adolescence, individuals go through a sort of identity crisis where they develop the rather permanent aspects of their personality. 

In our teenage years, we are very influenced by the personalities and ideas of our peers. Social psychologists will assert that the environment and social surroundings of our adolescent years shape our perception of the world and equip us with basic adaptive skills. Albert Bandura’s theory of vicarious or observational learning holds that we tend to ‘model’ our behaviour after those we find admirable. Thus, it is of utmost importance to surround ourselves with people with good qualities.

Read more: How to help a Friend in a Mental health Crisis?

According to research published in 2022, individuals, in times of mental crisis, are more likely to turn to their peers for comfort rather than their parents or medical professionals. Dr. Otta has recommended that parents should guide their children from 4-5 years early on in regards to the kind of people they should engage with since eventually, for a while, these people will become the only support system for the child. Let us now look at how we can go about the process of making new friends.

Finding Friends and Introspecting

Making new friends can be a little difficult after a certain point in life. Even besides this, there can be certain people who are not well equipped with conversational skills and so on. However, there can be some small ways in which you can initiate conversations and make bonds. Some of these are:

  • Use Icebreakers! Icebreakers are certain conversational tricks that can help in initiating conversations. For example, yelling out something weird and then immediately covering that up with “Well, now that I have your attention”. This helps in rapport formation with the other person and can lead to fruitful conversations!
  • Join Interest Groups. You are more likely to make friends with someone if you share the same interests as them. This search can be made more feasible if you were to join groups of your interests. For example, participate in a yoga workshop if that falls within your realm of interest. Numerous studies have been done which prove that we tend to gravitate towards people with similar interests to us.
  • Introspect Regarding Your Friendship Needs. Everyone has a subjective set of characteristics that they find desirable in another person. We must introspect to understand what we are looking for in a friend and why. Based on whatever conclusion we arrive at, we should look for such friends who fulfil our needs and those who will make a valuable addition to our lives.
  • Become a Good Friend. The great philosopher Immanuel Kant has said to never use someone as a means to an end but rather as an end within themselves. We should not go into the friend-making process with the outlook of what we can get from them but rather how the two of us can form a meaningful bond. You must sow what you reap and thus, we should be a good friend to others if we want them to be a good friend to us.

We must all be mindful of the friendships and connections we make and have since it has a major impact on our psychological well-being. Thus, we should expand our circles to include distinct ideas as well as people from whom we can learn and grow. Striking up a conversation with someone may seem very insignificant but it can have lifelong impacts for you and the other person. We should value and embrace our inherent nature to be social. So, go out there, use an icebreaker, let yourself be vulnerable and live.

References +
  • Manchanda, T., Stein, A., & Fazel, M. (2023). Investigating the Role of friendship interventions on the mental health outcomes of Adolescents: A scoping review of range and a Systematic Review of Effectiveness. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(3), 2160.
  • Geulayov, G., Borschmann, R., Mansfield, K., Hawton, K., Moran, P., & Fazel, M. (2022). Utilization and acceptability of formal and informal support for adolescents following Self-Harm before and during the first COVID-19 lockdown: Results from a Large-Scale English Schools survey. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13.
  • Mendelson, M. J., & Aboud, F. E. (1999). Measuring friendship quality in late adolescents and young adults: McGill Friendship Questionnaires. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 31(2), 130–132.
  • Hards, E., Loades, M., Higson-Sweeney, N., Shafran, R., Serafimova, T., Brigden, A., Reynolds, S., Crawley, E., Chatburn, E., Linney, C., McManus, M., & Borwick, C. (2021). Loneliness and mental health in children and adolescents with pre‐existing mental health problems: A rapid systematic review. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(2), 313–334.
  • Yu, N. X., Kong, X., Cao, Z., Chen, Z., Zhang, L., & Yu, B. (2022). Social Support and Family Functioning during Adolescence: A Two-Wave Cross-Lagged Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(10), 6327.
  • Ko, H., Wang, L., & Xu, Y. (2013). Understanding the different types of social support offered by audiences to A-List Diary-Like and informative bloggers. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16(3), 194–199.
  • Waldrip, A. M., Malcolm, K. T., & Jensen‐Campbell, L. A. (2008). With a Little Help from Your Friends: The Importance of High-quality Friendships on Early Adolescent Adjustment. Social Development, 17(4), 832–852.
  • Erik Erikson. (n.d.). Department of Psychology.
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