Close Female Friends Help Women Through Depression
June 23, 2004
By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Nearly all women say they get depressed, stressed or anxious at some point in their lives, and most turn to their female friends for support during these and other tough times, according to new survey findings released Wednesday.

"Girlfriends are probably the first line of defense for women who are suffering from depression," author Vicki Iovine told Reuters Health.

"Girls, grab a girlfriend and hold on to her for life," she advised.

Iovine, author of the Girlfriends' Guide series of books, explained in an interview that girlfriends may help depressed women more than parents or husbands, who are often too invested, and may focus more on solving the problem.

In contrast, girlfriends can give each other a space to discuss their feelings, which women sometimes need more than advice, Iovine said. "We need to describe how we feel," she said.

As part of the survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, 1128 women between the ages of 25 and 54 answered questions about their mental health and their reliance on close female friends for help.

According to the findings, 95 percent of women said they had felt depressed, sad, anxious or stressed at one point in their lives, and more than 70 percent said they had felt this way during the past year.

Most women -- more than 60 percent -- also said that they often turn to their girlfriends for support when they are feeling anxious, sad or depressed, and during other tough times. Sixty-one percent reported that they believe there is nothing they wouldn't talk to their girlfriends about, and nearly one-quarter said their girlfriends know more about them than any one else.

Most women also said that they feel comfortable talking about their health problems with close female friends. Between 65 and 70 percent all reported that they are able to talk about weight changes, osteoporosis, smoking or drinking, cancer or cardiovascular health with their girlfriends.

However, slightly fewer women -- 56 percent -- said they were "extremely comfortable" talking about mental health issues like depression with their female friends.

These findings were presented Wednesday in New York by the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health who, along with Iovine and Pfizer Inc, are launching an educational program called Girlfriends for Life, at www.girlfriendsforlife.org.

In an interview, Iovine said that women may still sometimes hesitate to discuss depression and other aspects of their mental health with female friends because they are somewhat ashamed of how they feel. "We don't want to tell people that we're not loving our fabulous lives," she said.

However, women who don't think of their girlfriends as a valuable resource during difficult times are missing out, she said.

"I am the biggest believer in the value of girlfriends," she said.