The Power of Friendship
There’s a reason there are millions of songs written about friendship. Friends are vital to our well-being and are some of the most powerful bonds we have. Having social connection is also one of the best ways to take care of our mental health. When friendships are healthy and supportive, they improve our confidence and self-worth; help us cope with serious life events or trauma like break-ups, illness, or losing a job; boost our feeling of belonging; and encourage us to make changes when we struggle.
Toxic or Unhealthy Friendships
While close friendships can support your mental health, relationships that have a lot of conflict and inequality can hurt your emotional well-being. We hear the term “toxic” a lot, but what does that actually mean? Examples of toxic friendships include:
- Encouraging or enabling behaviors that are harmful and not helpful such as substance misuse
- Unbalanced relationships or a relationship that’s a one-way street (all give and no take or all take and no give)
- Continuing to focus on—and repeatedly talk about—shared worries, wounds, or challenges without including possible solutions.
Tips for Supporting Friends with their Mental Health
It’s often assumed that taking care of mental health challenges is a job for a mental health professional, but we can all play important roles in supporting the mental health and well-being of people we know. Our friends are healthier because they know we—and others—care about them, and trust that we’re there to listen, play, laugh, and cry with them. And, we get the same benefits from their friendship.
A friendship is really just a series of small but meaningful acts of connection and comfort—like checking in on someone when you know things are hard, celebrating a success, reaching out just because you like hearing each other’s voice, and spending time together. These small acts show that you’re there for each other.
And, when a friend is struggling or doesn’t have many other folks in their lives who support them, small acts can make an enormous difference in their sense of well-being.
Ways to be a supportive friend:
- Reaching out to say “hi,” share a story, laugh, make plans to do something together, or just to check in are the healthy things we do that boost happiness and keep us connected to the people we care about. Even if it’s just sending a text, a little outreach can go a long way.
Share your own struggles
- If you’ve struggled with your own emotional ups and downs (who hasn’t?), and you are comfortable sharing, consider talking a bit about what you’ve been through and what’s helped. Your friend might be nervous about opening up, so sharing your story can be a good way to show them you’re a safe person to share with.
Know when they—or you—need help
- Being there for a friend also means knowing when you might be getting in over your head. It’s important to pay attention to—and be honest about—your limits. If your friend is really struggling or if their challenges are persistent and not improving, suggest they reach out for professional support.
If you’re worried a friend needs immediate help:
- Text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
- Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
- If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.
- We can’t support our friends if we don’t take care of ourselves along the way. Take breaks, make sure your own needs are being met, and set boundaries when needed (i.e., be a friend to yourself).
Getting Support from Your Friends
Even friends who care can miss the signs that you’re struggling. Reach out to them and be honest about what you’re going through. They’ll likely appreciate that you trusted them enough to share.
Friends can help provide perspective, problem-solve, or just listen. Reaching out isn’t a burden, and in fact, it can serve to deepen your friendship. It also doesn’t make you weak—vulnerability is a strength.
It’s also ok to reach out to more than one person. It can feel like a lot of pressure for a friend if they’re the only one, so don’t hesitate to open up to several people in your circle if you feel comfortable. They’ll likely have different advice and different ways of supporting you, so you can see what feels the most helpful.
Learn more about how to support a friend when they are struggling