Guide: Reaching Out to Students with Depression

By Mary Nicole Datlangin

On the first day of a friend’s absence from class, I assumed she was sick. On the second day, I tried contacting her, to no avail. On the third day, I started to worry. Her seat in the classroom stayed empty as the week progressed.

On the eighth day, I learned that she had been diagnosed with major depression.

The Philippines holds the highest number of depressed people in Southeast Asia, with one in five adult Filipinos suffering from a mental or psychiatric disorder. Depression, however, chooses no age or social status. It exists even within the campuses of Philippine Science High School (PSHS).

Talking about depression with a classmate can be difficult, but the worst thing you can do is to ignore his or her situation. To help raise awareness for Mental Health Month, here are five ways to reach out to a student with depression:

  1. Learn the facts about depression.

Only a few weeks have passed since Joey de Leon made his controversial remark on depression while hosting the noontime show Eat Bulaga.

‘Yung depression, gawa-gawa lang ng mga tao yan. Gawa nila sa sarili nila (Depression is just made up by people),” De Leon said.

Depression is highly stigmatized in ways like this despite its high prevalence rates. Most of the time, this outlook is caused by a lack of information. Know the basics about it — the signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment.

There are countless resources on the internet for this; just ensure that your sources are credible. You can also visit the exhibit on mental illness set up by the Guidance and Counseling Unit on the second floor of the SHB.

Infographic on Depression. Found in the Exhibit on the 2nd Floor SHB.

2. Be willing to listen.

You are not your friend’s therapist. At times, the best help you can give is to be there to listen without judgement. Depression is a clinical illness, and telling someone to “just snap out of it” is problematic.

Rachel Brehm, a mental health advocate on The Huffington Post, writes:

“Sometimes you try to reach out for a lifeline — for a breath of fresh air — but other people can’t see this shadow properly. They don’t know how it sits heavy on your limbs, pushing you backwards with every step. They don’t know how it makes you cry hot tears, even when you don’t want to.”

It can be very difficult to understand what depression feels like because of a vast collection of causes and experiences. However, it doesn’t take much to empathize with a depressed friend. How would he or she feel while talking to you?

3. Extend a helping hand.

In a research paper on student depression written by Tristan Yuvienco, academic life turned out to be the biggest contributor to “depressed feelings” among college students in Metro Manila.

Heavy workloads, isolation, and lack of support may all make a big impact on mental health in a highly academic environment like PSHS. These factors can lead to burnout — the physical and mental collapse due to stress — and overwhelm.

Offer to help out with requirements and projects (but not to the extent of self-neglect). A sincere effort can give a sense of calm in the frenzy of school life.

4. Encourage enjoyable activities.

A game of cards or a break at the cafeteria can go a long way in boosting endorphins, the natural pain- and stress-fighters in the brain. An increase in these chemicals can be greatly beneficial for tackling depression.

Invite a depressed friend from time to time to do the things he or she loves. However, don’t be insistent if the answer is no. You might overwhelm the other person even if your intentions were focused elsewhere.

Unsure where to start? Try treating a friend to a fruit shake from Ate Colai’s stand, or bring a Frisbee disc to school and find time to play during free periods. Staying a while in the air-conditioned library is an equally good idea, if you’d prefer that.

5. Do not neglect yourself.

While reaching out to someone with depression, stay on track with your own life. Practice self-care daily — there is no shame putting your needs first. If the pressure of trying to help builds up on you, seek support from others as well.

Self-care can be as simple as taking time to rest, unplug or de-clutter. Building new habits like writing in a journal or sleeping at least seven hours every night (an ambitious number for most PSHS scholars) can help greatly in the long run.

Whatever happens, do not give up in helping another with depression. Continue advocating for the good of mental health. Keep educating others to beat the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental illness.

Unfortunately, there may be other depressed scholars we don’t notice. There are those that bottle up their emotions as they walk daily through the school hallways. Those who think their problems are not worth the time of others. Those who, along with the people around them, don’t even realize their condition until it’s too late.

Now is always a good time to reach out. Give more hugs. Stay in touch. Honor their emotions.

Remind them that they are not alone.

To those who are in emotional crisis and in need of immediate assistance, please contact the 24/7 HOPELINE at (02) 804–4673, 09175584673, or 2919 (the toll-free number for all GLOBE and TM subscribers).

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