You can get by with a little help from your friends. You can also be much healthier because of them. When we think about taking care of our mental and physical health, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t usually hanging out with our pals, but years of research has shown that you should!

What are the Benefits of Friendship?

The list is endless, but here are just a few of the ways that friends can improve your overall health.

  • Friends can help reduce your chances of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or unhealthy Body Mass Index (BMI) by motivating each other to exercise more, or even together.
  • Friendship boosts your overall feeling of happiness, allowing you to have a better sense of self-worth and belonging in the world.
  • It’s one of the main ways to fight loneliness, which has been shown to be a growing health problem around the world with effects similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
  • Having a circle of friends cuts your chances of developing mental health conditions and can help those who are already dealing with them.

Why are Friendships Important if You’re Dealing with a Mental Health Issue?

  • It helps you process. When you’re dealing with a mental health issue it can feel overwhelming. A friend can help give you space to cope or talk through what you’re feeling.
  • Friends can help give you perspective and keep you grounded when you’re going through a tough time.. By talking with a trusted friend, it can help you shift the way you see things that can seem overwhelming.
  • They help keep you safe. Friends can identify destructive and negative behaviours that may be affecting your well-being such as alcohol or drug abuse, poor diet or lack of sleep.
  • Studies have found that when you have supportive friends, you just feel happier. You can laugh, joke and feel joy in your life while spending time with your pals.

How to Tell a Friend About a Mental Health Issue?

Sharing your mental health issues with a friend is a great way to get support from someone you trust, but telling them can be easier said than done due to the stigma surrounding it.

  • Think about who you want to share this information with. Telling one person doesn’t mean you have to tell your whole friend circle.  It should be someone you trust and are comfortable with.
  • Let them know how they can support you moving forward. Everyone deals with things differently so it’s a good idea to think about what your needs are and how you think your friend can help you in the future.
  • Be prepared to answer questions but don’t be afraid to set boundaries for yourself. You’re allowed to decide what you want to share.

How Should you Respond When a Friend Tells you About a Mental Health Issue?

If a friend comes to you for support, it’s important that you respond in a caring way. They’ve trusted you with personal information and you want to make sure you handle it in the best way possible.

  • The most important thing you can do is listen to what your friend is telling you. Make it clear that you’re listening and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Stay calm. It can be upsetting to hear that someone you care about is struggling but staying calm makes it easier for them to talk with you.
  • Try to avoid giving your medical opinion or suggesting that they ‘look on the bright side of things’ and ‘cheer up.’ You may be trying to be positive, but it can feel insensitive to them.
  • Support from a friend means a lot when you’re going through mental health problems. Ask them how you can help and let them know that you’re always there if they need to talk.

How can you Nurture Your Friendship in a Healthy Way?

  • Try to put yourselves in their shoes. If you get frustrated or find yourself questioning choices they make, try to see things from their perspective.
  • Be a good cheerleader. A good friend celebrates your achievements and makes a point of making you feel good about steps you’ve taken to take care of your mental health.

What Should you do if your Worried About a Friend who is Dealing with a Mental Health Issue?

If you have a friend with a mental health issue there are some warning signs that you should be on the lookout for:

  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol;
  • Lack of energy and signs of fatigue;
  • They withdraw from normal social activities and friends; and
  • They have had a recent traumatic event.

Ask them if they are doing okay and if they want to talk about anything. It’s alright to tell them that they haven’t seemed like themselves lately.

Offer them resources that you think could help. There are a number of crisis lines and resources available in each province and nationally such as the Centre for Suicide Prevention 1-833-456-4566 or Crisis Services Canada 1-833-456-4566.

Friends are a great way to better both your mental and physical health. So make sure you get some quality friend time in your life to keep up a healthy lifestyle!