The Hug Drug

Having a friend to talk to is effective medicine against depression.

By Natasha Raymond, published on November 1, 1999 - last reviewed on October 3, 2007

It just may be that no drug is more effective than a good,
meaningful chat. A British study has demonstrated the healing power of

A group of chronically depressed women living in London were
randomly assigned to receive a volunteer "befriender" or were placed on a
waiting list for one. The befrienders were instructed to be confidants to
the depressed women, meeting them regularly for chats over coffee or

Tirril Harris, of Guy's, King's and St. Thomas' schools of
medicine in London reports that among the
women who saw their volunteer friends regularly throughout the year, 72 percent
experienced a remission in depression compared with just 45 percent in the
control group. That's about the same success rate as antidepressants or
cognitive therapy, says Harris.

The women who benefited most from the friendship prescription
typically experienced some kind of "fresh start": they reconnected or
made amends with a person who was estranged from them, or left an
unpleasant job for another that seemed more promising.

In one case, Janet, a depressed woman who took part in the study, had been working overtime for no extra pay. Her befriender pointed out that this was unfair and suggested she ask for compensation. Janet approached her boss, who was "amenable and apologetic," Harris recalls. "These types of experiences—an acknowledgment of respect—made the formerly depressed women feel differently about themselves and about the world."