Scientists have established a link between close friendship during high school and its impact on the mental health of young people during early adult life.
Through a longitudinal study scientists suggest that the types of peer relationships youth make in high school matter for mental health through young adulthood. Researchers found that the quality of friendships during adolescence may have a direct relation with long-term mental and emotional health of young people.
The study concluded that high school students with higher-quality best friendships tended to improve in several aspects of mental health over time, while teens who were popular among their peers during high school may be more prone to social anxiety later in life.
The study looked at a community sample of 169 adolescents over 10 years, from the time they were age 15 to when they were 25. Adolescents 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; teens’ close friends also reported on their friendships and were interviewed.
The study found that teens who prioritized close friendships at age 15 had lower social anxiety, an increased sense of self-worth, and fewer symptoms of depression by the time they reached 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.
The study’s conclusion: Experiencing strong, intimate friendships during adolescence may help promote long-term mental health. The researchers suggest that this may be because positive experiences with friends help bolster positive feelings about oneself during a stage of life when personal identity is being developed. Also, close friendships may set adolescents on a trajectory to expect and therefore encourage supportive experiences in the future.