Quite often, I have clients that are having a hard time finding friends. This is often the reason why they have moved from trying to find informal emotional help (talking with friends and family) to formal help (me! a counselor). A good side effect of this is that my clients have started the journey of taking care of their mental health. But, a part of overall wellness is social wellness, and I want to help my clients achieve this too.

Especially as we enter our adult lives, it seems our chances to meet new people become limited. In this social-media driven world, many of us are becoming more accustomed to speaking with people online, which makes us more nervous to talk to people in person. It starts to feel weird because we’re out of practice. When you’re in a public place, you might feel the need to be looking at your phone so you don’t feel awkward. And if you can get yourself to put it down, you might notice that everyone around you had the same urge.

But how do we expect to meet new people if we never put ourselves out there? If we never start our first conversation with someone new, we can never develop it into a real friendship. But how can we do this if we don’t trust other people? Many of us (especially young women) have been warned not to trust the people who seem to be offering help, because they could have bad intentions (example: someone offers you a ride when you’re walking in the rain). But if we see everyone through this protective/paranoid lens, how will we give anyone a real chance? I don’t mean to say let your guard completely down. It is important to stay safe. But I would ask you to consider the trust you give to your Uber/Lyft drivers, think of what keeps you comfortable in those situations, and see how you can translate that into your outside life.

Many of us feel more comfortable starting with people we see more often. For example, coworkers at the office, other teammates on a sports-team/intramural, other members of a club. If we see them more often, we begin to trust them (same thinking that goes into advertising all over the place-the more you see it the more you trust it!). So think of the places you go often, or places you would like to go often (read HERE for what I think is an important first step to making friends), and how you could challenge yourself to reach out to others with similar interests.

For those of you who also are struggling with a mental illness, another safe bet is support groups. These are places where you have people struggling with many of the same things as you, and it’s a safe place to express your feelings without the fear that others will judge you or feel like you’re talking about something uncomfortable. In sharing these intimate parts of yourself, you might find yourself forming deep relationships with the other members.

Here are some examples of mental health support groups:

  • re:MIND (Formerly DBSA): Depression/Bipolar Support
  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): a larger organization with more broad groups
  • Psychology Today: Where you can find groups put on by private therapists, usually at a cost compared to the former two usually being free, but are usually more specific groups and don’t always require a diagnosis. (Click “Find a therapist” and change the “therapist” field to “support groups”)
  • And of course there area always the addiction groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon (for family/friends of alcoholics). There are groups for almost every type of addiction, but they might not be in your area. They have pretty similar discussions, if you just switch “alcohol” with whatever your addiction might be.

Meeting new friends is all about getting out of your comfort zone and putting yourself out there. There are more challenging ways and some more comforting. Try what you can, but before you do, read about the importance of dating yourself before making new friendly or romantic relationships.

Your listening ear,