The study by the Mental Health Foundation discovered almost 80% of people know at least two friends who have experienced mental distress, yet many don’t want to admit their problems for fear of what their friends might think.
The charity surveyed people across the UK looking at the experiences of both people with mental health problems and those of people who have supported friends during a period of mental illness.
Half of all people who did not want friends to know about their mental health problem said it was because they felt ashamed and two in three were worried their friends would not understand.
A total of 49% of those who responded said they did not feel able to talk to their friends about their mental health problem.
Reassuringly, 60% of people with mental health problems reported that when their friends did find out, they were concerned and 47% offered support.
Two in three people said their friend’s mental health problem did not put their friendship under strain, and almost half (41%) declared that it actually made their friendship stronger.
A total of 62% of people with mental health problems said it helped to have friends around and 41% revealed they received more help from their friends than their GP or own family.
Almost half of the respondents who knew a friend with a mental health problem felt that they did not know enough about mental health to give advice and a further 48% said better information would have helped them to support their friends.
Nearly three quarters of people admitted feeling frustrated because there was no simple solution to their friend’s mental health problem.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "Friendships are very important for good mental well-being, yet people can feel ashamed or embarrassed to tell their friends about how they feel.
"We know it can be hard for a person who feels depressed or anxious to discuss how they’re feeling but it is often friends who can provide the most support."
Based on the findings of the new survey the Mental Health Foundation has developed a number of recommendations for people to support a friend.
Included in the suggestions are for friends to:
- keep in contact through regular phone calls, visits or emails;
- give emotional support through listening and talking;
- try to provide practical support, such as offering to accompany them shopping or on a visit to their GP;
- just be around; and
- try and understand your friend’s mental health problem.