Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Help
by Johann Hari
Published 2019 ISBN: 9781408878682
–Review by Douglas Balzer
Johann Hari is a New York Times bestselling author. In his book Lost Connections, he looks to explain why depression affects so many people and works to uncover the real cause of it and why drug companies do not want us to know.
As a Pastor/Minister, I deal with many people who are in a state of depression regularly. I see the signs, the semiotics, of people’s actions and attitudes that reveal their struggles. For me, Hari’s book has been a reminder of the importance of going further than just saying you are depressed, go to your doctor and get some antidepressants. Knowing the difference between the need for connection and chronic depression are critical. I will advocate for medication when it is appropriate, but I believe we need to be reminded they are not the only means of aiding people dealing with depression.
Now, Hari reminds us that all around us, every day, we see the signs of depression. The advertisements are plentiful, as well as the advocates for pharmaceuticals being the answer to the problem. Our reality is you do not have to look far to find someone who is depressed. 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and those numbers are going up.
Depression is a huge problem, so we need a better sense of what causes it. The theories are plentiful, but in most cases, we do not know precisely why depression happens, or why it is becoming so prevalent in all societies. Most people accept the explanation that it has to do with brain chemistry. Hari asks the question, “What if I told you this might not be the whole picture?”
Here is why I like Hari’s exploration of the issue of depression and anxiety, suggesting there are alternative treatments. In fact, Hari suggests the cutting-edge science that is available to deal with depression and anxiety without medication. Hari presents the argument that not all depression is a biology ailment but result from environmental and physiological influences too. His research and discussions are fascinating in the overall conversation about depression and anxiety, arguing that the key to treating depression is in re-establishing lost connections in our lives.
Here are some crucial lessons we learn from Hari’s book. Let us take a closer look at what Hari says.
First, Hari writes, “A chemical imbalance does not cause depression.”
I personally find this conclusion hard to accept. It is one we should be cautious of making an absolute conclusion. Honestly, while the evidence Hari’s presents are scientifically correct, his findings may only be one side of this story. I have always believed we should listen to all parties when seeking the truth.
In the book, Hari talks about his own struggle with depression. He was diagnosed with depression and took medication on his 20’s. After ten consecutive years of experiencing increasing dosages of medicine, he reached the maximum dosage level. He was still depressed, and he made the realization he needs to try something else. So, doing his own extensive research on the subject, he was shocked by what he had uncovered.
It is a fact; modern society has told us for decades that depression is the result of chemical imbalances in the brain. What Hari found was unusual because no one talked about where the diagnoses of a chemical imbalance in the brain came from. Where did this idea begin? Hari learned there is little evidence to support a chemical imbalance causes depression or that standard antidepressants work.
Irving Kirsch, a Harvard professor, in the ’90s, researched the efficiency of antidepressants. The results of his research were most antidepressants on the market were no more effective than placebos. Kirsch was one of many who investigated the questionable effectiveness of antidepressants. Most of these medications are classified as SSRI’s (serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
The prognosis is these drugs increase serotonin levels in depressed people to normal levels. Hari found the idea that serotonin helps people with depression has little evidence to support it. Pharmaceutical companies just pushed the claim.
Second, the common reasons for depression result from hard life circumstances. So, the question we should be asking is, what is the cause of depression?
Hari’s research leads him to the theory there are nine causes or disconnections in people’s lives that lead to depression, and most of them must deal with difficult life situations.
Disconnect from meaningful work. Human beings need a sense of meaning or purpose in life. People who are lowest in the hierarchy, have the least authority and control are most likely to have depression.
Disconnect from others. Loneliness and a lack of the sense of belonging are reliable indicators for depression. Loneliness is at epidemic levels and growth in human societies worldwide.
Disconnect from meaningful values. The materialistic consumer-driven culture has left people feeling detached from ethical values, which in turn contributes to the development of depression.
Childhood trauma. The more traumatic a person’s childhood is, according to a 1998 study, the more likely they are to suffer from depression and anxiety.
Disconnect from status. Status gaps within larger populations, such as in the US, results in higher rates of depression, especially amongst young men.
Disconnect from nature. It has been found people who live in greener neighborhoods feel less stress and despair than those who do not.
Disconnect from a secure and hopeful future. An example of this is found amid the indigenous people groups around the world. Notably, we see it here in the US among the Native Americans on government-controlled reservations had a shockingly high suicide rate. At reservations where the Native Americans had control of their own laws, elections, police, and schools, the suicide rate was not a problem. They had control over their destiny and were significantly less likely to commit suicide.
Genes. We have learned genetics have a significant influence on depression in individuals. It should be noted genetics only accounts for 37 percent of cases.
Changes in the brain. Yes, neuroplasticity is how the brain changes due to humans’ experiences. Because of neuroplasticity, when people spend more time with thoughts of despair rather than joy, it can strengthen or even create chronic negative feelings.
Third, social prescriptions are a great way to help people with depression by helping people feel valued and connected.
According to Hari’s research, the best solution for depression is a social prescription. Hari is suggesting that rather than turning to medications, doctors are starting to realize the value of social orders. Doctors are looking to help people reconnect with others around them, seek out meaningful work, meaningful values, and give people a chance to overcome trauma from their past.
Primarily or in effect, social prescriptions reconnect the lost connections our busy, materialistic consumer-driven society has robbed from people.
The author, Hari, shares the example of a social prescription a nurse received who was bullied at work and was depressed as a result. The order was for her to work on a project with a small group of similarly disconnected people. They were tasked with turning around an area in London it a garden space.
The group united and were able to complete the task because they had things in common. They were able to reconnect with nature and identify meaningful work which meant something to the neighborhood and to themselves. The result was it improved her mental health. She was able to stop her medications and started her own gardening center.
Lost Connections. Hari’s notion that depression is not a chemical imbalance may seem like a radical proposition, we must admit he makes a convincing case. Our experience tells us that antidepressants do not work for a lot of people, so searching for other ways to help people with depression is critical. Hari’s book Lost Connections makes some excellent suggestions for how people can reconnect and discover meaning to deal with depression.
Lost Connections is a helpful book for pastor/ministers to understand people who are experiencing depression and anxiety, as well as give options for therapy.
Now, go forth and reconnect.