Having meaningful, positive friendships throughout life is a vital aspect of overall health and well-being. Researchers have not only found support for greater happiness and life satisfaction among people who have close relationships, but people who have friends are more likely to live longer and be more resilient to stress.
Friendships have multiple benefits on physical and mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic:
- They provide people with needed companionship.
- They provide people with a sense of belongingness.
- They increase self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence.
- They can encourage people to change unhealthy lifestyle habits like drinking too much or not getting enough exercise.
- They help people deal with adverse life experiences, such as divorce, serious physical or mental illness, losing a job or dealing with the death of a loved one.
Importantly, having close friendships acts as a buffer against the negative consequences of stress and adverse life experiences. A 2011 study published in the journal Child Development, examined the consequences of peer rejection on fourth graders’ levels of stress. The study included 97 fourth graders. Youths who had been socially excluded or victimized by their classmates showed higher levels of the primary stress hormone, cortisol; however, children who had higher quality friendships and a greater number of friends were less impacted by such stress.
Impact of social support on mental health
For people with mental illness and substance use disorders, a strong network of support is a key aspect of recovery. In fact, having social networks and relationships that provide people in recovery with love, hope, friendship and support is one of the four major dimensions of recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
People with severe mental illness had a better recovery when they had a larger social network and social support, according to a study conducted by Michael Hendryx, Ph.D., an associate professor and research director at West Virginia University, and his colleagues. In addition, researchers have found that high levels of social support are associated with less functional impairment, fewer symptoms, shorter recovery times and a greater likelihood of recovery among people with depressive disorders.
One study even found that Vietnam veterans who had high levels of social support had a substantially lower risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to those who had lower levels of social support. Alternatively, lower social support among the veterans was associated with PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, depressive disorder and alcohol abuse.
Alternatively, people who are socially isolated or who have low levels or lack of social support experience greater morbidity and mortality compared to people who do have social support. Not only can low levels of social support impact mental health, but studies have found that people without close friendships have 1.9 to three times the risk for physical health problems such as cancer, cerebral vascular disease, obesity and ischemia.
As such, social support is a vital part of any treatment program, whether treatment is for a physical or mental health condition. As a leading provider of mental health and substance use disorder treatment, Sovereign Health of California provides evidence-based, individualized behavioral health treatment services, which include opportunities for patients to receive social support during their treatment and recovery. To find out more about our treatment programs at Sovereign Health, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.
About the author
Amanda Habermann is a writer for Sovereign Health. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. She brings to the team her background in research, testing and assessment, and recovery techniques. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.