If you haven’t already heard of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, you should have. For me, it has been one of the most insightful books that I have read for a long time.
Written by Johann Hari, this book is basically an investigation into what really causes depression and even better, what can we do about (without relying solely on medication).
Depression has always been a sensitive topic for me, with numerous members of my family having been on anti-depressants at some point of their life (my Mum has taken them consistently for the last 15 years or so). I have had periods of my life where I have struggled with depression and spent weeks inside wondering what the point of all of this is. But I also took responsibility in those moments to pull myself out, understand that something
I have always had huge doubts about the notion of depression being simplified into a chemical imbalance in the brain and loathe the way that doctors turn to medication as the first (and often only) remedy. I have read lots and lots of literature about this horrible condition but this book pulls everything together beautifully.
As a bit of background, the author Johann Hari was diagnosed with depression and started taking anti-depressants as a teenager but began to realise that he never actually ‘got better’. He would end up having to increase his dosage or change his medication which would lead to feeling a bit different for a while before eventually starting to feel the same again. So he went on a bit of a mission to find the real cause of depression.
He outlines nine causes of depression, seven of which relate to a disconnection of some sort whilst the other two are biological ie genes and brain changes.
The types of disconnection that Hari sets out are things that make perfect sense, but that we generally don’t give enough importance to in our current society and culture.
He talks about disconnection from:
- Meaningful work – Most of us work but is our work providing us with meaning and purpose?
- Other people – Do we have nurturing connections with people? How can we recognise loneliness as opposed to simply being alone?
- Meaningful values – Do you have ‘junk values’ ie are you valuing material things and seeking happiness externally?
- Childhood trauma – Have you dealt with painful experiences from your childhood and can you recognise where they still trigger you in your daily life?
- Status and respect – Do you feel as though you are respected?
- The natural world – There is so much evidence regarding how spending time in nature benefits our mental and physical health
- Hopeful and secure future – Maybe things are not how you would like them to be right now but you can keep pushing forward because you know that things will change in the future but what if you didn’t think that the future would be brighter?
This is not to say that the brain does not change in depressed people nor that there is not a genetic disposition to depression. But it is not the same as we have been led to believe. We still have control, to some extent, and putting effort into reconnecting with the seven causes of disconnection can come with drastic improvements for your life. Unfortunately, when doctors diagnose depression they rarely ask where you are at in your life, how your work makes you feel, whether you feel supported by those around you, whether you move your body or connect with something greater than yourself.
Perhaps it is time that we changed the way we approach depression, because more and more people are being diagnosed as time goes by. Why is that? If it is just a chemical imbalance in the brain, why are so many more people having a chemical imbalance in their brain? What causes the brain to get out of balance?
All genuine and valid questions for you to consider.
I can understand that for many this book can seem a bit confronting because it is comforting to be able to rely on the fact that you have an illness, your brain is defective and taking medication will fix it.
“If you believe that your depression is due solely to a broken brain, you don’t have to think about your life, or about what anyone might have done to you. The belief that it all comes down to biology protects you, in a way, for a while. If you absorb this different story, though, you have to think about those things. And that hurts.”
But it is time for us to look at the bigger picture and see whether we can enrich our lives in order to change the chemicals in our brain, naturally. This is not to say that medication is not needed and should be taken off the table, but surely the other methods are worth a shot at the same time.
If this is something that interests you, whether you have suffer from depression or not, I highly recommend reading this book.
“Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people, he said—it’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else. If you have lots of people around you—perhaps even a husband or wife, or a family, or a busy workplace—but you don’t share anything that matters with them, then you’ll still be lonely.”
“… we – without ever quite intending to – have become the first humans to ever dismantle our tribes. As a result, we have been left alone on a savanna we do not understand, puzzled by our own sadness.”
“You aren’t a machine with broken parts. You are an animal whose needs are not being met. You need to have a community. You need to have meaningful values, not the junk values you’ve been pumped full of all your life, telling you happiness comes through money and buying objects. You need to have meaningful work. You need the natural world. You need to feel you are respected. You need a secure future. You need connections to all these things. You need to release any shame you might feel for having been mistreated.”
“What if depression is, in fact, a form of grief—for our own lives not being as they should? What if it is a form of grief for the connections we have lost, yet still need?”
“We are all born with a genetic inheritance—but your genes are activated by the environment. They can be switched on, or off, by what happens to you.”
“The difference between being online and being physically among people, I saw in that moment, is a bit like the difference between pornography and sex: it addresses a basic itch, but it’s never satisfying.”
“Materialism is KFC for the soul.”