Two years ago, second-year Business Administration student Geert Vlieghart (20) from Wassenaar came to the Eurekaweek in Rotterdam, a new city for him, where he knew no one. He had registered for a place to sleep in a house of the SSR student association. He was pretty nervous and – ‘like always’ – running a bit late. Others who would be sleeping in the same building were already waiting on the terrace. At first, they found themselves talking about nothing in particular, but Geert noticed later that same day that they were really getting along. Over the course of the introduction week, the four men became close friends.
That was a big relief for Geert. “I’d always lived in a small village, and now I found myself in this massive city. It was all pretty exciting”, he says. “In that kind of situation, friends are like a totem pole that makes you feel safe.”
“Without friends, no one would want to live”, Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote in his Ethica Nicomachea around 2,500 years ago. This might be a bit dramatic, but it is not far from the truth. According to research by Chantie Luijten, assistant professor at EUR, friendships are good for your mental health. She wrote a dissertation on possible risk and protective factors for the mental health of adolescents (between the ages of 11 and 17), looking, among other things, at their relationships with friends.
“Friendships can help to stave off anxiety and depression and improve well-being, including life satisfaction”, Luijten says. It should be noted here that, the better someone experiences a friendship, the better it is for their mental health. “Quality is more important than quantity.”
Meeting his new friend Kailesh during last year’s Eurekaweek helped second-year Law student Raja Ramlal (24) feel more secure. “He was a calm person, just like me”, he says. “Our Eurekaweek group was very lively. If I’d been the only calm person, I might have felt uncomfortable and wondered why I wasn’t like the rest of them. Because he was also there, I knew I wasn’t the only one, and I didn’t have to feel ashamed of myself.”
More important than your relationship with your parents
Good quality friendships appear to be even more important for mental health than good quality relationships with parents, Luijten’s dissertation shows. “The relationship with parents remains important for adolescents, but the role of friends increases, for example in developing their autonomy, own identity and learning to enter into intimate relationships. They also draw more and more support from their friendships.”
That process continues among young adults, and Geert is no exception. “When I came to Rotterdam, I didn’t want my social life to include my parents and no one else”, he says. “My friends were a safe haven with whom I could share things. That’s a fantastic thing to have in a new city.” Moreover, during the Eurekaweek with his new friends, he was finally able to let loose somewhat without worrying about his parents’ rules. “This was the first time I could party late into the night without receiving a text message from my mom, wondering when I would be home.”
Geert has since moved into a students’ house with two of his friends, but he still sees all three on a daily basis. “When I’ve got something going on, I can always rely on them to hear me out without judging me. It’s good to know you’ll always have someone to count on.”
After the Eurekaweek, Raja and his friend joined the RSG student association together. “There’s a lot of lively people there, but going with Kailesh gave me more confidence to make contact with other people.” They now meet up every week. “When I’m feeling out of sorts, it’s good to meet up and forget about the stress.”
Geert and his friends still reminisce about the Eurekaweek sometimes. “We’d always mess around with whoever went home early because they were too drunk”, he recalls. “They’d be sleeping on one of those inflatable beds, and then the others would knock it over.”