Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - and the Unexpected Solutions, by Johann Hari

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Swiss-British journalist Johann Hari goes on a remarkable journey to discover the causes for his long term depression. 

At the age of eighteen Johann Hari was prescribed antidepressants and spent the next thirteen years on them. As a teenager he often found himself breaking down and crying for no good reason. Life was miserable. Then he had an epiphany of sorts: the problem simply must be an imbalance with the  chemicals in his brain. All he needed to do was correct the imbalance with drugs. Simple. At first the drugs worked, then after a time their effectiveness would wane. No problem. Simply get higher doses. There were side effects, however. Hari put on a lot of weight, but he figured to be depression free was worth it. Or was it?

Lost Connections is Hari’s attempt to look for the reasons why there is such an epidemic of depression and anxiety in Western societies. The early chapters of the book look at the science behind the effectiveness of antidepressants and finds, amazingly, that their efficacy is actually marginal. They act more as a placebo. Yet doctors unthinkingly keep prescribing them.

The book then outlines in individual chapters seven reasons why people develop depression and anxiety, such as a lack of meaningful work, disconnection from nature, lack of community etc. There is another chapter after these seven which addresses how our genes and changes in the brain can cause depression and anxiety as well, but Hari finds that even if you have a disposition towards depression, the seven factors outlined will greatly exacerbate it.

The rest of the book looks at ways of gaining re-connection to meaningful work, values, nature and other people. The most compelling passages describe Hari working with a protest group in a dingy housing project in Kotti, Berlin. Rents were going through the roof and so the residents, a disparate group of people, came together and found strength to help each other and make positive change. Hari found that concentrating on helping others, and belonging to a group, greatly helped as an effective antidepressant. Meditation is another tool which is investigated as a way of combating depression and is found to be a powerful way to build empathy with others, and hence reconnection to the world.

Lost Connections mixes a personal narrative of suffering and trauma with journalistic research and investigation. If you are depressed or anxious, this book perhaps won’t address all your problems or offer an instant cure, but it will give hope that there is a way out. The basic take-away it that our society is making us very sick, focusing too much on status, money and individual achievement, leaving us disconnected from each other and ourselves.

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - and the Unexpected Solutions, by Johann Hari. Published by Bloomsbury. ISBN: 9781408878699  RRP: $27.99

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