Written by Rachael Kelly
Illustration by Mazahir Hussain
30% of millennials don’t have a best friend according to a recent YouGov pol. We ask: Is having a best friend better or worse for your mental health?
Whether it’s your BFF, bezzie mate or bosom buddy, the position of a ‘best friend’ is one we cherish from a young age. It’s nominative, unlike blood relations, and far easier to navigate than the emotionally charged waters of romantic relationships. Who else can you divulge your deepest secrets to, binge watch daytime TV with and consume a socially unacceptable amount of calories?
Through childhood and adolescence, friendships play a crucial role in our mental wellbeing, forging social ‘comfort zones’ in which to test out our maturing personalities and retreat to when distressed.
Mental health charity, Mind, surmises that “friends form one of the foundations of our ability to cope with the problems that life throws at us”. Whether it’s a break-up, bereavement or body issues, your best friend is the first person you turn to help you pick yourself up.
As we transition from adolescence to adulthood, we become less reliant on friendships for building confidence and establishing a sense of identity. Nonetheless, the necessity of close human connection for mental wellbeing is imperative, isolation being said to negatively impact your mental wellbeing and even increase your risk of depression.
To add insult to injury, where we lack in friends we have an abundance of mental health issues! Another recent UK survey has found that “mental disorder, distress and feelings of depression among millennials are at an all time high”. This being said, surely there’s no better time to hunker down with a best friend and weather this emotional storm?
It is striking, then, that a recent YouGov survey found that 30% of millennials don’t have a best friend. As a generation of careerists, opportunities and activists, it is disheartening to hear that we’re lacking in something so fundamental: companionship.
Apparently not for a growing demographic of us. In the UK alone, there are 8 million one-person households, with 300 million worldwide. Despite the thought of microwave meals for one filling many of us with shame, there is a new wave of people who are relishing in this self-imposed solidarity.
“Despite the thought of microwave meals for one filling many of us with shame, there is a new wave of people who are relishing in this self-imposed solidarity.”
Interestingly, isolation has been said to:
- Recharge your brain
- Increase productivity
- Boost creativity
- Strengthen relationships with others
Introvert-pride has been championed on social media through accounts such as ‘Introverts Only’ and ‘Introvert Doodles’. Where stereotypes suggests introverts are antisocial, unassuming and hermit-esque, accounts such as these de-mystify the introvert and revel in the simple joy of some selfish ‘me time’.
Best friends can also bring their own emotional baggage to the table. With any close relationship, they require work, compromise and maintenance. Toxic friendships can leave you mentally drained, depressed, anxious and down-right fed-up. If a relationship or friendship no longer serves to bring you happiness, distancing yourself can be no bad thing.
Nonetheless, complete social isolation is inarguably a no-no when it comes to self-care. Although the pressure to have a ‘bestie’ has subsided, maintaining close familial or friendship connections is crucial to mental wellbeing. Prolonged isolation can lead to:
- Self-esteem issues
- Poor overall health (studies have found that isolation can increase our mortality rate by up to 30%)
And if you’re already dealing with mental health issues, there is no greater time to reach out to your nearest and dearest.
The Mental Health Foundation states:
“Friendships can play a key role in helping someone live with or recover from a mental health problem and overcome the isolation that often comes with it”.
I would argue that you really don’t need a ‘wifey for lifey’ to be happy. The best friend dynamic is not the holy grail of all human connections and you shouldn’t feel pressured to have one. If you’d rather Netflix and chill on your own that’s no bad thing.
BUT, we are instinctively social creatures and your wifi connection will never get you through a struggle like a timeless human connection will. It’s worth putting in the time and effort to stay in touch with a few close friends, if not for your own mental wellbeing, then for theirs.
Rachael is a Classics Graduate from Bristol University who is now working as a Junior Project Manager at Immediate Media. In her spare time she writes freelance, largely on lifestyle, wellbeing and children’s literature.