Mental health benefits of friendship as adults have three mates

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Question: How many friends have you got? No we don’t mean the 150 acquaintances the average Facebook user has, we’re talking about actual, real life, pop-round-for-a-cuppa mates?

Let’s put it another way, how many new friendships have you made since adulthood?

If you’re anything like new research, your answer will likely be not that many.

A recent study has revealed that the average adult has only three true friends with no idea how to make any new ones.

Researchers found Brits typically stop making new friends at 37 but one in four haven’t formed a new friendship since the age of 24.

As a result, over a fifth (22%) often feel lonely – despite having a busy social life and lots of family around – and almost three quarters (72%) would love to make new friends.

The trouble is almost half (48%) of Brits think it’s harder to make friends or meet new people as you get older.

Close to one in five (17%) of the 2,000 people polled feel they are clueless when it comes to making new mates, with a third admitting they’d be nervous at the prospect.

Woman with her close friends. (Getty Images)Woman with her close friends. (Getty Images)

New research has found the average adult has just three true friends. (Getty Images) (Getty)

However, 27% would be willing to put in the effort and take up a new activity in a bid to make new friends, while 18% would give new mate meet-up apps a go.

Reasons people think it’s harder to make friends when you’re older include people already having established friendship groups (71%), not going out as much compared to their younger years (61%) and becoming less confident (35%).

Thinking about their closest friend, 37% say they first met them at school, while almost a third (32%) connected at work, and just over a quarter (21%) were introduced by another friend or family member.

The research commissioned by Beavertown which has partnered with the charity, Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), to launch a new Crush Loneliness campaign this January.

Commenting on the findings a spokesperson for Beavertown says: “Loneliness is something which is happening all over the country, every day of the year.

“Making friends is definitely something that was easier at the earlier stages of our lives for a number of reasons, but we are keen to show adults that there are other ways to get out there and meet new people.”

The poll also found that of those who feel most lonely in January, 45% put it down to people not wanting to socialise after Christmas, while 42% blame it on the lack of events.

Over a third of those who are feeling the friendship weight would be unlikely to admit they are feeling this way to someone else, as six in 10 believe there is a societal taboo surrounding adult loneliness.

But CALM and Beavertown are hoping to change that.

“There are many different ways to make friends and meet new people, and it might be surprising to learn that a lot of people are in the same boat when it comes to having the confidence to try them out,” the spokesperson for Beavertown continues.

“We want to start people’s year off positively by crushing the taboo topic that is loneliness and hopefully being the catalyst to some long-standing future friendships.”

It can be harder to make friends as an adult. (Getty Images)It can be harder to make friends as an adult. (Getty Images)

It can be harder to make friends as an adult. (Getty Images) (Getty)

The link between mental health and friendship

From improved moods to reduced risk of depression, friendships have some pretty important benefits for our minds and mental health.

Studies have shown that friendships can not only help us cope with stress better, but also lower our chances of feeling stressed out in the first place.

As well as helping with our mental wellbeing solid friendships have even been linked to an increase in life expectancy, with a study revealing that those with stronger relationships had a 50% lower mortality risk.

Loneliness, meanwhile, increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%, and a 2010 study found it can be as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

So why is having good friends so good for us?

“Friendship connections, woven into the very core of our social experiences, play a significant role in shaping our mental health,” explains psychologist and relationship advisor Barbara Santini.

“Friendships, often more nuanced and impactful than we may initially realise, contribute deeply to our psychological wellbeing and emotional resilience.

“This intricate interplay between our interpersonal connections and mental state highlights the essential nature of friendships in our lives, both in providing support and in fostering personal growth.

Santini says there are many ways fostering friendships can benefit our mental wellbeing.

Emotional resilience through connectedness

One of the most significant benefits of friendship, according to Santini, is its role in building emotional resilience.

“The shared laughter, the empathetic ear, and the mutual understanding within friendships act as a buffer against the mental stressors of life,” she explains. “This emotional support helps reduce the impact of stress, anxiety, and depression. In a world where we often face challenges alone, a friend represents a vital lifeline, offering a unique blend of empathy and perspective that can transform our coping mechanisms.

Two male friends. (Getty Images)Two male friends. (Getty Images)

Forming friendships has many benefits for mental wellbeing. (Getty Images) (Getty)

Cognitive benefits and stimulation

Santini says engaging with friends in intellectual discussions, debates, or even casual conversations can have a stimulating effect on the brain.

“This cognitive engagement can be particularly beneficial as we age, helping to keep our minds sharp and reducing the risk of cognitive decline,” she explains. “The mental stimulation derived from these interactions goes beyond mere conversation; it fosters a sense of curiosity and keeps the brain active and engaged.

The joy of shared experiences

Sharing experiences with friends, whether they are triumphs or tribulations, adds a layer of richness and depth to our lives.

“These shared experiences create a tapestry of memories that contribute to a sense of a well-lived life,” Santini explains. “In psychology, we often discuss the concept of ‘collective joy’ – the idea that happiness and fulfilment are amplified when experienced in the company of others. Friendships offer a continuous source of this collective joy, enhancing our overall life satisfaction”.

The role of friendship in identity formation

Particularly in adolescent and young adult years, friendships play a critical role in identity formation.

“The people we choose as friends often reflect, to some extent, the kind of person we aspire to be,” Santini says. “As we navigate different life stages, friendships can provide a sense of continuity and a framework within which we understand our evolving selves.”

Two friends hugging. (Getty Images)Two friends hugging. (Getty Images)

Connection with our friends can help boost mental wellbeing. (Getty Images) (Getty)

Navigating life transitions

During significant life transitions such as moving to a new city, starting a new job, or entering retirement, Santini says friendships can be a source of stability and continuity.

“They provide a sense of normalcy and belonging during times when our roles and identities might be in flux,” she explains.

“The mosaic of friendship is both intricate and essential, woven deeply into the fabric of our mental and emotional wellbeing. It is a dynamic force, constantly evolving and adapting to our changing needs and circumstances.

“As a psychologist, I often emphasise to my clients the importance of nurturing these relationships as they are as vital to our mental health as they are to our joy and fulfilment in life.”

Friendships: Read more

Watch: Brit made friends in New York by holding ‘Do you want to be my friend?’ sign

Additional reporting SWNS

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