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A new study shows it’s not the popular teens who are setting themselves up for good mental health later in life; it’s the ones who form close friendships, however few they are.

A group of researchers followed 169 teenagers over 10 years. They questioned them every year about friendships and mental health. The teens with higher quality friendships tended to improve in mental health over time, while the popular teens without close friendships more often developed social anxiety after high school.

It’s not that those close high school friendships always last, the authors said, but the ability to develop close friendships tends to stay with you throughout your life. Furthermore, good friends help you feel good about yourself at an age when personal identity is being developed.

Here’s what the study’s coauthor had to say:

“Our study affirms that forming strong close friendships is likely one of the most critical pieces of the teenage social experience. Being well-liked by a large group of people cannot take the place of forging deep, supportive friendships. And these experiences stay with us, over and above what happens later. As technology makes it increasingly easy to build a social network of superficial friends, focusing time and attention on cultivating close connections with a few individuals should be a priority.”

Mental health challenges can make it harder to form friendships. If you’re a teen struggling to make the friendships that could serve you well throughout your life, here are some tips from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

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