Humans as social beings continuously depend on friendship to survive in their environment. It’s in their nature that they connect with one another which is a protective factor in improving their mental health (Cadzow, 2009).
Without the social connection, loneliness becomes inevitable and can increase the risk of mental health issues. For example, in a study of more than 28,000 men published in 2002, it was discovered that people with limited social ties were nearly 20% more likely to die within 10 years, regardless of their status. The study found out that those men who reported loneliness were prone to accidents, suicide, and cardiovascular related deaths.
Another study on friendship confirmed that there is a strong relationship between friendship and social support and further linked it to better health outcomes (Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 2010).
Several studies have linked close friendships to physical, mental, and emotional health benefits as discussed below;- (Journal of psychosomatic Research, 2016).
Researchers have found a link between social support from friendship and the immune system. It is found that people with good friends tend to build stronger immune systems and anti- inflammatory responses which leads to quicker wound healing and reduce the risk of illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and some cancers.
Research believes that friendship plays a role in the way the body processes stress. It points out that when people spend time with friends talking about everything, the body produces less stress which has a calming effect.
Praises, reassurances, a hand to hold and a shoulder to lean on from your friends makes one feel safe and wanted, and this can improve one’s confidence. Being there for each other in this way can help to develop a lifetime of gratifying companionship.
Genuine friendship lifts up one’s spirit and makes one experience joy in their life. Studies have revealed that socialising with happy people is contagious. Research further confirm that you can increase your happiness levels by actively building friendships instead of waiting for friends to come your way.
Better overall health
Medical research advises that meaningful friendships promote overall healthy habits because it encourages people to swap harmful habits for healthier ones. Whether it’s a better diet, more exercise, or permission to take a well-deserved break, our friends’ influence can help lower the risk of many health problems, including high blood pressure, obesity, and depression.
Overall, friends can help us get things in perspective because they are known to form one of the foundations of human ability to cope with the problems that life throws at us.
Strategies to improve/maintain
Friendship is one of the best things in life. We want to be more than just an occasional friend, we need to have long term meaningful friendships.
Whether it’s gaining a new friend or improving an already existing friendship, there’s always a way to gain a new best friend!
- Create time to talk to your friends in person, this helps friendships grow even more. Bonds are strengthened when both parties in the relationship feel valued and appreciated.
- Look out for common grounds in the friendship. Friendship that has a lot in common tend to last a life time. Try out different things to help improve the relation by encouraging open communication
- Get to know each other better. When strengthening a friendship, self-disclosure is vital to making it a deep friendship. It’s that vulnerability that allows you to get to know them, and for them to know you. Any lasting friendship with your best friend should include some of this.
- Never make assumptions about your best friend. They are always growing, as are you. It is important to remember that they are different from you. Supporting those differences is as important as revealing in the things you share. As you grow, the dynamic of the friendship may change. If you are open to those changes, you are well on your way to making the friendship last.
- Find things you both love to share. By sharing things you love, you will find new ways to interact with each other. And you will also deepen the friendship. Shared interests are key to lasting friendships. Sharing more important values is even more likely to deepen the friendship. For instance, sharing similar world views will be more important than having the same taste in clothing or coffee.
For more information on how a lack of friendship and loneliness can affect your mental health watch this video.