When you're feeling depressed, sometimes the last thing you feel like doing is reaching out to other people. But experts agree that regular contact with a supportive network of friends can do wonders for your mental health—and your health in general. In fact, at least one study has found that people with satisfying friendships actually live longer than those without them!

So don't isolate yourself—reach out. In fact, the best time to build your social support system is when you're not feeling particularly stressed or unhappy—that way, if the bleak feelings hit, you'll be able to reach out for the support you need to pull you through. And you don't have to build a formal "network" of people. You simply need to cultivate relationships through everyday activities. Ideally, you'll find a group of people you can rely on socially, as well as mental health professionals, to pull you through the tough times when all you want to do is stay in bed with a blanket over your head.

Since relationships are a two-way street, start by being a good friend to others. Some simple steps you can take to bolster your relationships, whether old or new:

  • Be reachable. Stay in touch with people. Answer the phone and reply to e-mails and invitations.
  • Make the first move. Invite people over, even if it's just for a cup of tea. Ask someone to take a walk with you. If you put yourself out, people are likely to respond positively.
  • Listen well. Don't make the common mistake of always wanting to jump in with your own narrative. Let the other person talk.
  • Be supportive. Tell people why you're proud of them. Offer to help.

Don't overlook members of your family when you're building your support network. If there's a cousin you always felt a connection with but never had the time to see when you were younger, now's the time to get closer. Make time to talk with your parents, siblings and children to keep the bonds between you strong. If you establish solid relationships, you'll be able to ask for help when you need it. And people who feel close to you will be glad to buoy you up in your time of trouble.


Study: Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, 2005