[Two Pronged] How to help a friend with depression

[Two Pronged] How to help a friend with depression
Jack asks our columnists how he can help a friend suffering from depression

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.


Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

I attended your recent seminar about life, love, lust.  Because there were so many questions during the open forum, you told those who had no chance to ask, to just email or message you.  So here I am.

I just want to learn more from you both, Doctor Holmes and Mr Baer. Here is my concern:  I have a very close friend who is suffering from depression, I want to know how I can help him, and others suffering from depression.

Thank you in advance, God bless always.




Dear Jack,

Thank you for your email.

It is not an easy task to answer your questions, given that my co-columnist is the author of the very first (and so far only) book on depression in the Philippines (Holmes, Margarita Down to 1: Depression Stories Anvil Publications, 2010). That said, there seem to be 4 major camps when it comes to the treatment of depression.

The first I would call the traditionalists, or denialists. These do not believe that depression is a real medical problem that requires specialist treatment of any sort. They espouse the old fashioned “pull your socks up,” “get plenty of fresh air” and “take lots of exercise” approaches (and similar variants). In other words, the depressed have it within themselves to get better and it just requires a drill sergeant or equivalent to oversee recovery.

The other 3 camps acknowledge that depression is a disease which requires treatment but differ on that treatment. Broadly one favors pharmaceutical solutions, the second favors alternative medicine (which of course is a very broad church), and the third favors psychotherapy. To complicate matters, more than one of these options can be employed in treatment.

As for the sufferer, depression also comes in different forms, on a spectrum from the mild to the very severe. So some sufferers can be fully functioning while at the other extreme they may be virtually comatose.

When it comes to helping someone with depression, it is perhaps an idea to do your best to acquaint them with the various treatment options. However, unless you are a mental health professional yourself, treatment recommendations are strictly beyond your remit.

If you truly wish to help not only your friend but other sufferers, then I suggest you obtain a professional qualification which will enable you to do so with the appropriate training and information to inform your advice.

Best regards,

JAF Baer


Dear Jack,

Thank you very much for your letter. Mr Baer focused on the 4 kinds of treatment, for which I am very grateful, because it gives the message that depression can be cured. In fact, not only can depression be cured, it is also one of the easiest mental disorders to cure.   

People, however, are not so quick to admit that they are clinically depressed.

Sometimes it is because they are afraid of being stigmatized, but in my opinion, it is also because they do not know they are depressed. This can be quite scary, because they may then feel this is how they feel simply because of who they are, or what they may have done in the past.

Not knowing that they are depressed can, in fact, make them even more depressed as they do not see the disease for what it is. Thus, they have no concept that, like most illnesses, depression can be cured and it is very possible that a year, a month, even a week from now, they may not be depressed at all.

Not knowing one is clinically depressed makes the situation (or one’s perception of one’s life) seem even more hopeless. And this feeling of hopelessness is one of the most common characteristics of depression.

What are the other characteristics of depression?  In other words, how do people know if they are depressed?

Nothing can take the place of a comprehensive clinical interview for confirming a diagnosis of depression. However, there are simple tools to help one know if one is depressed or not. The most common among them are Beck’s Depression Inventory and the Zung Self Rating Depression Scale.  

The Zung Self Rating Depression Scale is copyright-free which is the main reason I have no compunction sharing a link with you. You can find it here.

It would be a good idea to suggest your friend take it.  Or, you can both take it together. This is definitely something within your remit and in my opinion, will be a good first step for him to accept his being depressed (in case he had any problems with that) and also to realize that he is not the only person who has felt as he does.

After that, all you need do (perhaps) is listen, listen, listen. You do NOT have to convince him na “kaya mo ‘yan” (you can do it), etc.

All you have to do is let your friend know you are there for him, will keep his confidences well, confidential and still feel he is perfectly normal, despite his having no joy in his life at the moment.

You are his friend, not a mental health professional (although I hope he sees one if it is warranted) and truly good and caring friends are something to hold on during these difficult times.

Depression is a very “google-able” topic. This is also something you can do with your friend should he be open to it. Or do on your own, should he not be.

I hope this has helped. Should you need to write to us again, please do so.

All the best,

MG Holmes

– Rappler.com


Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email twopronged@rappler.com with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.

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