College friendships aren’t confined to students’ lives on the weekends—they’re a key part of ensuring student health and success on campus. “Healthy friendships are important at every age,” says Dr. Marjorie Hogan, a board-certified pediatrician in adolescent medicine in Minnesota. “Strong friendships lead to positive mental and emotional health, providing acceptance, mutual affection, trust, respect, and fun.”
Social bonds can have a profound effect on students’ health and longevity. A 2010 review of studies found that those who have few friends or low-quality friendships are more likely to die early or develop serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and even cancer. On the other hand, healthy social ties appear to boost the immune system, improve mental health, and lower stress.
Aside from the health benefits, fostering healthy social relationships helps promote student success beyond college. “People are going to be more successful in life if they’re developed emotionally and not just academically and professionally,” says Dr. Ellen Jacobs, an adolescent and adult psychologist in New York. “Universities should think of themselves as trying to develop a whole person—it’s not just about developing academics but also emotional intelligence.”
College can be a particularly challenging time period for developing healthy friendships. “There’s a lot of stress in college, and it can come out in relationships,” Dr. Jacobs says. Meanwhile, college students are still developing their definitions of healthy social bonds—and skills at building them. “It’s a developmental milestone in college to really fine-tune the kind of relationships you want to have in your life,” she says.
To help support healthy relationships among students:
- Make relationships a topic included in campus health and wellness programming.
- Have campus experts write blogs or share thought leadership about the importance of having personal relationships.
- Focus on creating a positive community on campus.
- Create explicit conflict-resolution guidelines and procedures for disputes on campus using peer mediators.
- Make sure student counseling sessions are available to address a variety of interpersonal issues—not just anxiety and depression.
Ian Connole, sport psychology consultant, Waynesburg University, Pennsylvania.
Marjorie Hogan, MD, pediatrician, University of Minnesota.
Ellen Jacobs, PhD, adolescent and adult psychologist, New York, New York.
Teresa Wallace, director of counseling and psychoeducational services, Casper College, Wyoming.
Hefner, J., & Eisenberg, D. (2009). Social support and mental health among college students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79(4), 491–499.
Umberson, D., & Karas Montez, J. (2010). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51, S54–S66. doi: 10.1177/0022146510383501