We owe a lot to our best friends.
They’ve seen us through dilemmas large and small, turned tears into laughter and just generally made things more bearable. They’re always there to offer support when we need it the most, and can always be relied on to offer advice (and gin) in a heartbeat.
And now, it turns out we should thank our friends for more than just 1am phone calls and buckets of wine, with a new scientific study suggesting the benefits of having a best friend extend far beyond what we might expect.
In fact, having close friends can be so beneficial to our wellbeing that the presence of them in our lives can actually boost our health.
The study, published last month in the journal Child Development, found that having a childhood best friend can have a significant – and lasting – impact on someone’s mental health, right through to adulthood.
Read more: 50 female friendships in movies
The study tracked the mental wellbeing of 169 participants at ages 15, 16 and 25. For the first two ages, participants were asked to name the person they considered to be their best friend, and the authors interviewed both the subject and the best friend. They noted that the label of “best friend” did not have to be mutual between both people, and that the participants did not have to name the same person at both ages.
When the researchers came to interview the participants at age 25, they found that those who had had higher-quality friendships were less likely to experience social anxiety, as well as having a better sense of self-worth and displaying fewer symptoms of depression.
Speaking about the results, lead study author Rachel Narr said, “We weren’t surprised that better adolescent close friendships turned out to be important, but we were surprised by just how important they turned out to be into adulthood.”
To this end, Narr emphasised the importance of quality over quantity, and highlighted how having a larger group of less-close friends could be detrimental when compared to having a small circle of close friends. It could even lead to increased feelings of social anxiety later in life, with Narr adding, “The phrase ‘feeling alone in a crowd’ comes to mind when thinking about those kids and their heightened social anxiety later.”
So hold your pals close and don’t take your friendships for granted – oh, and be sure to buy the next round as a gesture of thanks.