Friendships Help Us to Cope, Says New Research

While friendships help us to cope, many people experiencing mental illness are still too scared to tell their friends. Almost 80 percent of people know at least two friends who have experienced mental distress, yet many don’t want to admit their own mental health problems for fear of what their friends might think, according to new research from the Mental Health Foundation.

To mark Mental Health Action Week, the Mental Health Foundation surveyed people across the UK, looking at the experiences of both people with mental health problems and those of people who have supported friends during a period of mental illness.

We’re worried about what our friends think…

Half of all people who did not want friends to know about their mental health problem (50 percent) said it was because they felt ashamed, and two in three (63 percent) were worried that friends would not understand. Half of those who responded did not feel able to talk to their friends about their mental health problem (49 percent).

Yet friends help people to cope.

Reassuringly, 60 percent of people with mental health problems reported that when their friends did find out, they were concerned and 47 percent offered support. Two in three people (61 percent) said their friend’s mental health problem did not put their friendship under strain, and almost half (41 percent) declared that it actually made their friendship stronger.

Two thirds (62 percent) of people with mental health problems said that it helped to have friends around, and 41 percent commented that they received more help from their friends than their GP or own family.

Friends want to help, but need support themselves…

Almost half of the respondents who knew a friend with a mental health problem felt that they did not know enough about mental health to give advice (44 percent). 48 percent said that better information about mental health would have helped them to support their friends better and 54 percent said they would have liked a professional to talk to. Nearly three quarters of people admitted feeling frustrated because there was no simple solution to their friend’s mental health problem (71 percent).

Dr. Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, says:

“Friendships are very important for good mental well-being, yet people can feel ashamed or embarrassed to tell their friends about how they feel. We know that it can be hard for a person who feels depressed or anxious to discuss how they’re feeling but it is often friends who can provide the most support.”

Based on what people with mental health problems told the charity, here are five ways in which you can support a friend.

  1. Keep in contact through regular phone calls, visits or emails.
  2. Give emotional support through listening and talking.
  3. Try to provide practical support, such as offering to accompany them shopping or on a visit to their GP.
  4. Just be around.
  5. Try and understand your friend’s mental health problem.

The Mental Health Foundation has produced a new booklet called Keeping us going, which offers help and guidance for people with mental health problems and their friends. The booklet’s photographs were taken by Spencer Rowell, the photographer behind the iconic ‘Man and Baby’ poster in the 1980s. To order a free copy, telephone 020 7803 1101 or visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk.

A number of celebrities are supporting Mental Health Action Week, including Britain’s top agony aunt Claire Rayner, author and poet Gwyneth Lewis and comedienne Jo Brand, who says;

“For all the assumed benefits of celebrity status, it’s not all that. Moments, sometimes long stretches of self doubt and frustration are not unknown to me even now. But what I do have, and thankfully what I always had, was the comfort and support of really good friends and my family.”

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was last reviewed or updated by on .

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