Student advocate: Dog resting on a cat

Friendships aren’t just about happy hours or someone to visit with on the weekends —they’re a key part of ensuring health and wellbeing. “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 outside of academic settings. “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.”

To help support healthy relationships among students:

  • Make relationships a topic included in curriculum.
  • Point students towards resources and information that speak to the importance of having personal relationships.
  • Focus on creating a positive community in your course or student population.
  • Don’t hesitate to point students towards the Student Dispute Resolution Center for larger concerns about a student experience.
  • Remember to make referrals to the Student Advocate HELPline for support with interpersonal issues that are impacting student wellbeing and their ability to manage daily responsibilities.

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