The Grant Study attempted to define the good life by tracking the lives of nearly three hundred Harvard men. The study began in 1937, when the men were sophomores, and it followed them for more than seventy years through war, career, marriage, divorce, parenting, grand-parenting, retirement, and old age. George Valliant directed the study for four decades, and when asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” he replied, “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

Relationships are the only thing that really matters. That’s a significant finding and one we know to be true, especially in a time where our relationships have been challenged with extra stress.

When you’re in a friendship with someone who struggles with a mental illness than you know it can have a big impact both positively and negatively. Let’s look at…

4 Ways Mental Illness Affects Friendships

  1. It has the potential to cause pain between you and your friend.
  2. This pain can cause the symptoms of the illness to become worse, rather than better.
  3. Isolation can cause a sense of distance and misunderstandings.
  4. Unhealthy expectations are easy to fall into.

Many times, someone with mental illness is described as unreliable or a “bad friend” because they might cancel plans more often than others. What you might not understand is the tremendous amount of energy it often takes just to get through a normal day. Then add on top of that the effort to “go have fun” and that pressure can be too mentally exhausting. Set aside your judgement and don’t give up on your friends. They are fighting a battle you will never fully understand.

Good relationships can create a positive impact like nothing else. That being the case, we need to focus on healthy relationships. If you have a friend with a mental illness then you know that the struggle has the potential to cause pain between you. This pain can cause the symptoms of the illness to become worse rather than better. But the friendship also has the opportunity to support positive change and transformation. It goes a long way to have the right tools in our toolbox. Let’s look at…

4 Tools for Building Healthy Friendships

  1. Healthy Boundaries—You are not solely responsible for another person’s mental health. You can’t be available 24/7.
  2. Know Your Triggers—This goes for both friends. We all have things that cause us pain, but being aware and communicating those is the first step to having a healthier friendship. (I encourage you to check out the video in the notes below, it will give you some more information on your pain and peace cycle).
  3. Learn How to Read and Interpret Mental Illness Related Behaviors as Symptoms—It might feel personal, but it’s not.
  4. Support Your Friend while at the same time Ensuring Your Own Health & Safety

Remember friendship really does make a difference in our long-term well-being. It’s worth the effort. Let’s remember what Proverbs 27:9 says…


A sweet friendship refreshes the soul. Proverbs 27:9 (NIV)


How has mental illness affected your friendships? I’d love to hear from you today, comment below.

A big thank you to counselors

Chris Webberley

Justin Little

Connect to resources: 

The Basics of the Pain and Peace Cycle 

Connect to a counselor:

Counselor Referral

No more confusion or wondering how you’ll face the roller coaster of life with mental illness. Mental Health Academy is here to take the mystery away, and give you the knowledge and the tools you need to have relationships that last! The time is NOW to get our first course: Trauma.

Please subscribe for videos on our Youtube Channel for our amazing resources. I’ll be sharing great tips and encouragement for whatever your facing—whether you’re fighting mental illness or have a loved one who is.