The Mental Health Implications Of Not Having A Best Friend

From the time we enter school as little children, friendships start to emerge, and special bonds form. Often we get lucky enough to find that one friend who we consider the best of the rest. That deep connection is there when we need a shoulder to cry on, when we have an achievement that deserves celebrating, or when a deep secret has to be shared. But what happens when you drift apart and that connection is lost? What does it do to our mental health to be without a best friend?


It's not uncommon to have many types of friends over the years. From lifelong friends to work friends to gym buddies and casual acquaintances, we form relationships everywhere we go. In fact, Psychology Today tells us that there are seven types of friends in life, with the best friend making the top of the list. Here we explore the best friend role and what happens to our mental health when we are without this special bond.

Defining a best friend

Society really likes us to have a best friend. There is this unspoken pressure to find that one true friend, and hold on to them for dear life. You see it in every movie and TV show out there. The main character seems to always have a best bud that they turn to for advice. Think Lady Bird and Julie from "Lady Bird," Ted and Coach Beard from "Ted Lasso," and David and Stevie from "Schitt's Creek." It's enough to make you a little envious of the best friend connection if you are lacking in that area.


So, what makes these best friendships so appealing? According to Psychology Today, there is more than just one way to be a good best friend. At the top of the list is being emotionally available. No best friend is perfect, but a true best friend will always find a way to support you and remain non-judgmental. Other important best friend qualities include being a thoughtful listener, helping out when needed, staying reliable over the years, accepting all of your flaws, providing a shoulder to cry on, offering guidance and navigation through life, and, in the end, will always have your back. 

The impact of connection

Researchers with the American Cancer Society (ACS) led a 2018 study in which they found that social isolation was associated with cardiovascular disease, depression, insomnia, cognitive decline, and increased mortality. Another landmark study found that a lack of social connection is worse for our health than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. All of this evidence points us in one direction: the importance of friendships, and more specifically best friends, on our well-being.


Does it matter if you have a few good pals you can call on, or do you need that deeper connection in order to garner the most mental health benefits? It comes back to the phrase "quality over quantity." The idea that it's better to have a few high-quality things rather than multiple items that are inferior in quality. While every friendship has its value, a deep connection with a best friend you can truly trust offers us peace in this often stressful life. Most people would give anything to have peace and calm in their life, not drama and stress. So, if you find that the handful of acquaintances you have isn't doing it for your mental health, it's time to cultivate some deeper connections. 

How does a best friend impact mental health?

A lack of social connection is a detriment to our health, both physiologically and psychologically. Having friends to connect with is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle, and some would argue is the best way to boost mental health. But how does this change when it comes to a best friend? In looking at the traits that make a best friend, we see a strong connection between positive mental health and this deep type of friendship. In an often uncertain world, it's almost priceless to have a dependable friend who is there to listen without judgment.


While your other friends may be there when you want to vent or go out on the town, a best friend is there when you need to get personal. When tragedy happens in your life, who do you turn to? Often a best friend is there to be that comfort when life becomes unbearable. Another reason best friends are different from an acquaintance is that a deep connection makes us feel safe. It usually takes a while to develop the kind of relationship needed to be best friends. Over the years, you see each other through many of life's ups and downs. There is nothing better for your mental health than knowing there is one person out there that you can depend on no matter what. When you have an emotionally safe relationship with a best friend, you feel seen and understood and can be vulnerable (via PsychCentral).


What if your partner is your best friend?

It makes sense that for many people, their partner is also their best friend. In fact, recent research proves that the majority of people consider their romantic partner to be their best friend. A study of 801 adults found that 83% considered their current romantic partner to be their best friend. Romantic partners and best friends often share similar qualities, so it can be beneficial to have one special person in your life who shares both titles.


How does this "two-in-one" relationship impact mental health? The negative implications come when your partner/best friend is your only friend. You may be missing out on the positive impact a friend can have when they aren't tied to you romantically. Sometimes it's difficult to talk to your partner about sensitive topics, and that is where a separate friend can offer support. Another thing to consider is the pressure you may be putting on the relationship when you only have that one person to rely on. Also, should something happen to the relationship, then you're left without a partner and a best friend to turn to.

Maintaining best friend status

The last thing we want is to drift away from our best friend. While there are ways to reconnect with a friend, the ideal situation is to maintain the friendship over time. It takes both sides to nurture the relationship, and this can't be more true than for best friends. Having common hobbies and goals is important, as it will continuously cultivate and deepen that bond. Another big way to maintain your best friend relationship is to simply stay in touch. As we find ourselves busier than ever, it can be hard to put friendships at the top of the "to-do" list. But now more than ever we need those best friends for our mental well-being. It also gives us a sense of purpose to be that special person for someone else.


What if you and your bestie find yourselves in a fight? It's totally common for best friends to go through rough patches. Arguing in a relationship is natural, and if you approach reconciling well, you may find your bond is even stronger. Conflicts are bound to happen, so go into it with an open mind, try to limit judgment, and move on after the conflict is resolved. The next time it's been a while since you've reached out to your best friend, remember just how much your mental health can benefit from having a best friend.