Friendships and mental health | Advice for Young People | Jigsaw

Friendships and mental health

Friendships and mental health

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Friends are a big part of our everyday lives. Having good friends can greatly increase our overall sense of wellbeing.

What is friendship?

There are different kinds of friendships. A good friend can make all the difference if you’re going through a rough time. Some friendships are supportive and others are about hanging out, banter and not about sharing how you’re feeling. That’s OK.

Two young people, girl and boy sitting down laughing on a grey couch
Friends can challenge us, and that's how we grow.

Types of friendships

You might be in touch with a friend everyday, or once a year, or less. Or you may connect with them everyday online, but hardly ever see them physically.

A friend might make you laugh and cry, but most importantly, they don’t judge you. They accept you for who you are. Friends can challenge us, and that’s how we grow.

Having friends means you’ve a responsibility to be there for them too, even when the going gets tough. Be aware of your own limitations though. If your friend is down or going through a really tough time, you might feel drained after spending a lot of time with them. But if you’re drained every time you see them, it might be worth reviewing why that is.

Losing friends

Sometimes friends naturally grow apart, or just grow out of the things they had in common. It happens and is a natural part of growing up. We change as we grow and so will our interests.

It’s not unusual to lose touch with friends during transitions like finishing school, or college. This can be a very challenging time for everyone but even more so if it seems like other friends move on quickly.

If it’s someone you care about though, maybe it’s worth going the extra mile to stay in touch.

Watch Jigsaw volunteers, Nicola and Sam, talk about leaving friends behind.

How to make friends

When you’re young and surrounded by people your own age in school or in college, people can assume it should be easy to make friends, which is not always the case.

Friendships are generally formed around common interests. If there’s no one at school or college that you connect with or gets you, look for other things you can take up to meet like-minded people. Look out for clubs, sports teams, and meet-up groups. Getting involved in and volunteering for events can also help you meet new people.

Sometimes we need to force ourselves out of our comfort zone to meet new people and make new friends, but it can be worth it.

Watch Jess and Jigsaw clinician Conor talking about making new friends.

Albha's story

“After finishing school at 18 and taking a gap year, my friends were all in college and I was kind of at a loss of what to do with my time outside of mainstream education. There weren’t many opportunities outside of a sports clubs and a not-very-well-run youth club for things to do. I was looking for something different, something meaningful, so I joined Jigsaw as a Youth Advisory Panel member.

It turned out to be a huge lifeline for me as a young person in rural Ireland. During my time there I got the chance to take part in loads of really cool events and experiences, and feel part of something I was proud of with other young people like me in my community. It was a real launch pad for me in terms of really engaging and participating with people and an issue at a level I hadn’t before. It has honestly really shaped how my life has turned out now at the age of 24. ”

Albha Foley, 24
Volunteer
After finishing school at 18 and taking a gap year, my friends were all in college and I was kind of at a loss of what to do with my time

Toxic friendships

Sometimes we can find ourselves hanging onto friendships that may not be adding to our lives in a positive way. Sometimes, ‘banter’ can go a bit far. If a friendship makes you feel bad about yourself, and there’s more negative than good to it, it’s time to ask whether it meets your definition of friendship.

How to address it

If there’s an opportunity to talk to your friend about how they’re making you feel, be straight with them. Try saying to them, “I find it upsetting when you…”, “That made me uncomfortable” or “It’s embarrassing when you keep on bringing up that time…”. If they don’t get it and nothing changes, it’s time to pull away. This of course can be easier said than done as you may be friends through a wider circle, or feel that this person is the link to other friends. Feeling you have to continue a relationship that you’re not happy in can cause a lot of stress.

Try to spend time with people you are comfortable with. The more time you do this, the easier it is to get perspective on relationships that are not going so well.

Talking things through

We can’t always avoid people who make us feel bad. Working out how to be around those we don’t really like or make us feel uncomfortable is a part of life.

How to approach it

If someone is making it difficult for you to maintain a relationship with them, talking through your feelings with someone you do trust can make the situation clearer and easier to manage.

A family member or friend can help you feel more in control of a difficult friendship. Taking the time to make sure we are surrounded by people who make us feel good has positive effects in all aspects of our lives.

Good communication is important for all relationships, including friendships. Keeping things open and honest and being the same yourself will benefit any friendship you have.

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