Question submitted by CM.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, in any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. Consider that number. 1 in 5. And because mental health does not discriminate; people of all ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds and economic environments will be impacted. So, when you think of your work environment, or your school environment or even just your immediate family, one out of the five of you will struggle with mental health over the next year. For some people this may be a one-time event, or for others a lifelong struggle, but either way, there will be at least one, if not many, people in your life who are struggling.
Now, for some of us, that number is not new, or unfortunately, even that shocking. People struggling with mental health has become more and more common and although we are beginning to be better as a society in being honest about it, it is still way more common than we even realize. There are a variety of factors that will impact someone’s mental health and to be honest that could be a post on its own, but there is a major factor that can impact it on a positive way. Friendship.
Having good friendships, and relationships in general, have consistently and statistically shown that it can help someone who is struggling with their mental wellness. According to the Mayo Clinic in the United States, there are five main reasons that friendships are good for you;
- Increase Sense of Belonging and Purpose – We all know what that means. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, there are parts of your day when having someone around can be helpful. It allows you to feel that you are not alone and, in this day, and age, you can still feel that way by the friends you interact with online. I am not talking scrolling through social media but engaging in a meaningful and helpful way. Having that sense that you are just one part of a larger world, or that someone else understands what you are going through, is a huge step in realizing that you have others who can empathize and understand your life challenges.
- Boost your happiness and reduce you stress – reduce stress? Awesome! We are all overstressed and feeling overwhelmed so a simple way of reducing that is hanging out with some friends. Easy peasy. Now, this “hanging out” can look different based on your personality, but we all know the feeling you get when you go out for coffee or watch a good movie with a friend. Even if that coffee date is spent bitching about a co-worker or at your boss, you still feel a sense of stress relief when you make your way home.
- Improve your self-confidence and self-worth – Bonus! You start to feel better about yourself because friends do that. They stop you from saying or doing things that are not realistic in nature and will call you on your shit when you are being too hard on yourself. They will tell you when you look nice or when you have done a good job in your project at work. Having that positive reinforcement, which is honest and true, allows you to get those glimpses of yourself that you may not see. Especially if you are not doing well mentally. An ongoing positive reaction, from someone who you know has no reason to lie about it, is a large step in believing it yourself.
- Help you cope with traumas or the death of a loved one – misery loves company is where my head goes here. Now, I understand that’s not what the cliché means but I do know that when you are experiencing a trauma, or coping after one, having others around you does help. It can be as simple as someone dropping you off a meal or offering to take your dog for a walk so that you can just be. Be in your emotions, be in your sadness, and be with someone who is there if needed but won’t expect anything in return.
- Encourage you to change unhealthy lifestyle habits – See number 3 above. True friends want good things for you and so if they see you behaving in problematic ways or doing things that are not good for you, they will address it. They will want you to do what is good for you. End of story. That is why they are your friend.
Now, I am not naïve to think that having friends will fully help your ability to overcome or manage a major mental illness, but I can confirm that it will help. One of the largest negative impacts on poor mental wellness is isolation and feelings of loneliness. So, the easiest step would be to make, or have, some strong solid friends. This is the important part though; they must be GOOD friends. Not acquaintances or people that you could not talk to. Those individuals in your life who you know you can trust, who won’t judge you and who will have empathy and support when you are having a hard time. Those are the friends of quality and not quantity and when you are able to find one, hold on to them! For a variety of reasons.
The other big part is that this need is not limited to you. With one in five of us struggling, many of us, you and me, are going to need those good friends at some point in their lives. If you are needing support, ask for it. If you are wanting to give support, remember the following to keep nurturing a solid and lasting friendship.
- Be Kind.
- Listen Up. Pay Attention.
- Open Up. Allow Yourself To Be Vulnerable.
- Show That You Can Be Trusted.
- Make Yourself Available.
- Be Mindful Of Yourself. Make Sure You Have The Space To Support Them.
Sounds super simple right? Just have one of those friends and you are good to go! I am one of those lucky people who are fortunate enough to have a few of these types of friends, but I also know that not everyone is that lucky. So, what can you do? Again, the Mayo Clinic has some advice for that too! (This is an area I went to outside sources for as I am not an expert on this at all!) The biggest thing, and a thing I know myself have done, is overlook potential friends or people who have made a positive impact on me. Yet, I was too scared and too nervous to ask them to hang out. We have to get over that. In order to develop solid friendships, you need to put yourself out there! Reach out to that person, or if feeling extra brave, try some ideas that put you out there. Community events, volunteering, taking up new interests and even just going for a walk with your dog to name a few. Be positive. Remember that you are not going to become friends with everyone, but that maybe one or two of those people may be just what you are looking for.
“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”
-William Butler Yeats