The Power of Friendship

Last Updated: 6 Aug 2018

I am blessed. In the course of my life, I’ve had the support of family and friends who have been able to help guide me through the sometime tumultuous times of this landscape called life. These relationships have proven to be mutually beneficial for both me as well as the other person. I never could have managed my Bipolar Disorder without them.

But there are many who do not have this kind of assistance. Their friends and loved ones are no longer in their lives. This can be for any number of reasons but often it is as a result of their mental illness. Many are homeless. It is estimated that this number can be as high as 3.5 million people in the U.S. (USA Today, August 27, 2014). A substantial number of these individuals live with a diagnosable mental illness. The numbers are staggering.

But this is not the only group suffering. There are many who live in silence. Isolation can lead to depression. Stigma prevents such people from reaching out for the help they so desperately need and deserve. Sometimes all they need is someone to be there as a friend. Unfortunately they may not know where to turn.

In many parts of the U.S., as well as in other countries there are a variety of peer-based support groups for those living with Bipolar or other conditions. These resources can be found online. Groups such as the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) have chapters nationwide.

Also, one of the organizations I work for, Compeer, is making friendships and changing lives. Its mission:

 Using the power of volunteer friends

and mentors to improve the lives of

children, adults, and seniors who are

striving for good mental health.

 Through its evidence-based mentoring process, thousands of individuals throughout the U.S., Australia, and Canada have been helped. Essentially, all that is required is for the mentor and mentee to simply spend at least one hour a week together. I’ve seen firsthand how these relationships can help individuals living with a mental health challenge thrive. These programs are looking for mentors who are willing to step up to be someone’s friend. Volunteers are screened and trained and matched with someone for whom they can be a positive role model, thereby raising the self-esteem and increasing the social and communication skills of their “Compeer.”

Research has shown that for those living with a mental disorder, the power of friendship can help them to live happier, healthier lives. There’s something special about the idea of having someone who is “in your corner.” I know from my own experience, that during those times when I struggled with my mania and depression, I benefited from having someone who was present to listen patiently and serve as my “rock.”

So whether you explore the DBSA, Compeer, or any other kind of social support, please know that you don’t have to do it alone. Recovery isn’t done in a bubble. We all need someone to lean on when things are tough (and even when they’re not).


About the author
Karl Shallowhorn is the Education Program Coordinator for the Community Health Center of Buffalo. Karl has been living with bipolar disorder since 1981. He is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and has worked in both the addictions and mental health fields for over 17 years. Karl is the author of Working on Wellness: A Practical Guide to Mental Health. He is a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor and also works as a mental health consultant for organizations across New York State. Karl has provided a variety of mental health-related seminars and workshops for conferences, schools and businesses on the local, state and national levels. Karl serves on the Board of Directors for the Mental Health Association in New York State, the Mental Health Association of Erie County, the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network, as well as the Erie County Mental Hygiene Community Services Boardand the WNED/WBFO Mental Health Advisory Council. Karl has received numerous awards for his advocacy efforts in his professional career.
  1. Woot, I will ceilranty put this to good use!

  2. Thank you. The Compeer program is actually a program in which one can participate as a mentor whether they are a peer or not. The entire concept is based on developing healthy relationships that can benefit, as you said, both parties.

  3. Great article and such an important message. I am support/carer for my best friend who lives with bipolar disorder. It humbles me to know that my friendship is a big help to her at times, I think it’s important to note that it’s not just a one way thing: me as the “well one” in our friendship supporting her as the “ill one”. It is a reciprocal, mutually rewarding thing, like any friendship. I think your article is mainly focused on peer support, but “well ones” — friends without first hand personal experience of mental illness — have a role too. We all do.

  4. Yes – Here’s the DBSA support group in Pittsburgh

    DBSA Pittsburgh
    Contact 1: David E. Roos
    Phone: (412) 321-6325
    Contact 2: Kelly Forster Wells
    Additional Phone: (412) 246-5588 or
    Fax: (412) 246-5520


    1. Updated Info:
      DBSA Pittsburgh
      Contact 1: Gary Halliday
      Phone: (412) 708-9423
      Distance: 2 miles

  5. Is there a support group in Pittsburgh PA 15213?

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