Friendship and Mental Health: Choosing Your Tribe

June 10, 2018 Morgan Meredith


How do you know which friendships help your mental health? I recently described the mental health benefits of surrounding yourself with a tribe of friends to help you out. However, how do we know who belongs in that tribe? Sometimes the people around us can create toxic relationships or perhaps just are not supportive. I’ve taken years to carefully craft my friendships for my mental health, so I wanted to share some of the criteria I use. 

How to Recognize Friendships that Help Mental Health 

Is Your Friendship Positive? 

Not all friendships lead to good mental health. So, if you’re looking for a tribe to support you, positivity is the number one criterion to seek. Roughly once per year, I complete a “friends cleaning,” where I evaluate each of my friendships for my mental health. At that time, I determine whether our interactions are at least 50% positive or better. A positive interaction is one that leaves me feeling better for having connected with that person. I realize that’s a subjective measure, and that when you’re in a mental health downturn all things appear negative. However, you can easily suss out whether what you’re experiencing is a symptom of your mental illness or an actual concern by asking the following question: do all my friendships seem generally negative, or do only a few while the rest seem ok or good? If the answer is all negativity, your experience is likely being shaped by your illness. 

A great way to take this evaluation is to look through text, email, and social media exchanges for the last month or so with that person. You’ll quickly be able to notice patterns--is the thread dramatic or encouraging? Upon reading it, do you feel stress or do you smile?

Is Your Friendship Honest?

Friendships help mental health when the relationship is honest. Do you feel like you can safely share your struggles honestly and candidly with the person in question? If not, that doesn’t mean your friendship is damaging; it may simply mean that person doesn’t belong in your most intimate circle. Perhaps she belongs in a more casual acquaintance ring instead. 

You want people in your tribe to be able to actively assist you during your rough times. If you can’t be honest about those difficulties, that person won’t be able to support you. Don’t be ashamed of this lack of intimacy; not everyone is cut out to be in everyone else’s tribe. In other words, discomfort around sharing your negative moments is normal and doesn’t make you a bad friend. You don’t have to (and frankly shouldn’t) trust everyone with your innermost thoughts. 

Of course, I use many other criteria to select those closest to me, but these two are a clear start. Especially if you’re just beginning to intentionally choose your inner circle, these friendship litmus tests can give you a good starting place when testing your friendships for their mental health value.

APA Reference
Meredith, M. (2018, June 10). Friendship and Mental Health: Choosing Your Tribe, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Morgan Meredith

Find Morgan on  TwitterFacebookMediumLinkedIn and her personal blog.

Lizanne Corbit
June, 11 2018 at 2:50 pm

I love this read! This is truly so important. We've probably all heard how those around us influence us, but it's remarkably true. When we're around people who are constantly negative, we can get pulled down into that. When we're around people that are positive, supportive, and uplifting we feel the impact of that as well! Choose wisely, and always remember the importance of boundaries.

June, 11 2018 at 9:13 pm

Thanks Lizanne - I love the focus on boundaries. Even with the best people around us, we need to learn to say when is too close, or when it might be healthier to keep something to ourselves. I've got a third one on the way on this topic, so I look forward to your feedback on that one too!

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