Thrive by IU Health

July 27, 2023

Friendship and mental health

IU Health Bloomington Hospital

Friendship and mental health

The past four years saw increased mental health issues as isolation measures removed a key mental health component: in-person social interaction.

In recognition of National Friendship Day on Sunday, July 30, three IU Health Behavioral Health experts—Annie Cheek, LCSW, Drew Heckman, PhD, and Dayana Ferrera, LMHC—are sharing information about the importance of social interactions and friendship.

How big of an impact does loneliness have on an individual?


In my experience, loneliness is a huge driver of substance use and other addictive behaviors. It can frequently cause people to feel they have no connection to others or the outside world, leading them to try to connect to something else, such as a substance. People often develop a relationship with that substance and then learn to rely on it, even though it becomes problematic in their lives.


Humans are social creatures. We survive in the presence of loved ones with which can accomplish goals that we couldn’t on our own.

Loneliness is often an emotion we feel, designed to motivate connectedness. Unfortunately, we often tend to isolate further when these feelings arise. Moreover, we often engage in behaviors that give a false sense of connectedness, like social media.

Actual human contact is the best option, although it may feel counterintuitive.


When individuals experience loneliness, they often lack social support or experience that those around them fail to see them and their needs. Lack of social support and community can contribute to feelings of depression, which can amplify isolating and withdrawing from others.

How can positive friendships impact a person’s mental health?


Positive friendships can bring joy, hope, and a feeling of being seen and understood. This is so important when experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or feelings of loneliness.

When people are battling substance use, they often feel alone. Healthy friendships become a big part of recovery.


While in the presence of people with which we have a close connection, the problems in our lives seem more manageable, although still present.


Studies have shown that having at least one supportive person in our lives can positively impact mental health.

The ability to have a trusted friend available for emotional support and who can listen and relate to not only one’s struggles but also be there to celebrate successes often contributes to individuals feeling connected and fosters feelings of belonging.

What is an example of a positive friendship?


A positive friendship is one in which we can respect each other’s boundaries, feelings and understand we don’t have to agree. We can talk through things we don’t understand and try to see from the other person’s perspective.

Share thoughts, feelings, and time together.


A positive friendship is one in which there is a balance of shared resources. We feel like that friend makes our life more manageable, and we do the same for them.


It is one where all parties involved are able to communicate assertively about needs and boundaries, as well as deal with conflicts that arise in a respectful and open manner.

Positive friendships often lead to individuals feeling a sense of being valued and appreciated, seen and respected, encouraged to face challenges and listened to when managing difficult situations. All person’s needs and values are respected, even when they are not always shared.

What are some tips for adults who have trouble making new friends?


Know that many people struggle to make friends as an adult.

Try making friends at work. Join a group, class, or club to meet new people. Go to the dog park and talk to other dog owners. Find free events in the community and try to meet new people.

If you have anxiety, try to join a group with other people who have anxiety. Just remember you aren’t the only person trying to make friends and struggling with it.


After finishing high school, it naturally becomes harder to find friends because you’re not forced into the same situations as others. In adulthood, friends are often found in areas where people with similar interests gather.

I recommend finding a location where people with similar interests gather (like, church, the gym, in-person gaming, or yoga studios).


Once you get in the presence of like-minded individuals, focusing on building a deeper understanding of personal needs, boundaries and values is a good start when it comes to starting the process of establishing new relationships.

Understanding that not all friendships can or need to have the same level of closeness or attached expectations. Being open and receptive to where other people are in their lives helps you determine who may be a good fit to have in your life.

It is ok to start by being around others without the expectation of becoming friends – just being open to being around and getting to know others can be good practice for getting to know your comfort zone and practicing interpersonal skills.

Anything else to share?


Friendships seem to ebb and flow. Life gets busy and hard for people, so check on your friends, and give them some grace if they’ve been a little distant for a while. It’s easier to maintain friendships if we remember that most people are doing the best they can at any given moment.

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