If you still have close friends from your childhood, you may want to consider keeping such relationships, with new research now suggesting that childhood friendships are good for one’s mental health.
The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Virginia in the US, looked at the mental health of 69 people over 10 years — from the time they were 15 to when they were 25.
The subjects were assessed annually, answering questions about who their closest friends were, reporting on their friendships, and participating in interviews and assessments exploring such feelings as anxiety, social acceptance, self-worth, and symptoms of depression.
Researchers found teens who prioritised close friendships at 15 had lower social anxiety, an increased sense of self-worth, and fewer symptoms of depression by age 25 than their peers.
Conversely, teens who were broadly sought after in high school - that is, those who were popular among their peers - had higher levels of social anxiety as young adults.
Today is World Mental Health Day, a day set apart to educate the public about mental health, and reduce stigma and discrimination against those affected by mental illness.
Avelile Nontanda, 28, from Walmer Estate, can attest to the study, and says some of his childhood friends are still the best people to have in his life.
With the advent of messenger services such as WhatsApp he finds it easy staying in touch with these friends.
“We don’t see each other as often as we want, but chatting helps bridge the distance as we live in different provinces.”
Nontanda says though they like different things as adults, “we respect each other and support each other’s businesses”.
Diane Mallaby, a psychologist, agrees that long-standing friendships work for most people, because they feel these friends understand them better.
But while Amanda Pieterson, 29, of Cape Town has had a childhood friend for over 20 years, she says such friendships can be complicated and one-sided.
Pieterson says she and her friend inherited their friendship from their grandparents, who were also best friends.
“We did everything together, we were almost inseparable.
“For people who did not know us, it would seem like we were sisters. When my mom did my hair, she had to do hers as well,” said Pieterson.
But after so many years and establishing their own careers and identities, Pieterson said she felt their friendship was not the same, and admitted that she was just in it mainly because of loyalty.
“I’m not really benefiting from our friendship, I’m just serving her and being a emotional supporter - she comes to me when she needs emotional support,” said Peterson.
“I have learnt that the friends I have met later in life have actually become my go-to-people more than my childhood friends.”
Although she enjoyed her life with her childhood friend in their teens, as they both enjoyed partying and clubbing, ‘I’m not into that life any more.
“I’m not that person any more; a nice relaxed day at home with a few drinks is better.”
Mallaby said that that friendships should not be based on how long you’ve known someone, but rather on the stability and the quality of the friendship.
Any friendship should be mutually rewarding for both people in the relationship.
“Stable friendships are important for everyone,” she said.
“People who don’t have stable friendships tend to be more lonely and isolated.”
Dr David Rosenstein, a Gauteng-based clinical psychologist, said the ability to get through emotional difficulties and problems could be partly attributed to friendship.
He added that good and stable relationships lead to long life.
But Rosenstein also warned that one must not be committed to a relationship just because of the time invested in it. but rather maintain and stay in a friendship because both parties are benefiting.
Asked when you should end a relationship, Rosenstein said one should reconsider friendship when there is no give and take, and one constantly gives or receives more from the relationship.
In cases where your mental health and your well-being is affected, Rosenstein suggested that you re-evaluate the relationship.
Sometimes it can be better to move on.