“Lost Connections” by Johann Hari

book cover

Subtitle: Uncovering the real causes of depression – and the unexpected solutions

Recommended to me by: Alice

This is a carefully researched, elegantly written book about depression and its causes. Hari interviewed people doing basic research on depression, its causes, and its solutions. He also shares about his own experiences with depression and meds that only worked temporarily.

Along the way, the idea that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin is thoroughly debunked. Apparently scientists never thought so, but it’s convenient for marketing anti-depressant drugs. Which, by the way, studies show only work for a minority of people to alleviate a small amount of depression. When they work long-term, it is largely through the placebo effect. Which is great as far as it goes, but there are serious “side-effects” (main effects) caused by these drugs.

Careful studies show that depression is not an internal malfunction. Depression is a sane response to external circumstances. Hari explores 9 causes. He notes that there are probably others, and that one of them (childhood trauma) covers a lot of ground.

Depression is caused by disconnection from:

  • meaningful work
  • other people
  • meaningful values (as opposed to pursuing material wealth)
  • [ourselves because of] childhood trauma
  • status and respect
  • the natural world
  • a hopeful or secure future

The last two causes are genes and changes in the brain. Genes can predispose us to depression, but external events trigger it. Changes in the brain happen in response to those external circumstances, and can change back when circumstances improve.

He explores solutions that have helped people reconnect. We can find anti-depressants that are social solutions rather than chemicals taken to “fix” individuals.

  • People coming together in community, extending their sense of home not just to four walls, but to the people around them.
  • Social prescribing: doctors who prescribe group projects when needed, as well as surgery and drugs when those are appropriate to the patient’s problem.
  • Co-ops and other ways to find meaning at work.
  • Exploring meaningful values and getting away from advertising that promotes feelings of inadequacy to make people buy things.
  • Sympathetic joy: shifting from envy and competition to sympathetic joy and cooperation. Also meditation and reconnecting with the self.
  • Overcoming trauma. This is a very short section for a very big topic. Hari mentions overcoming shame by speaking what happened and being heard non-judgmentally.
  • Restoring the future. This is another huge topic. Universal basic income is mentioned as a good start.

The only downside I noticed in this book is some concern-trolling about the “serious medical crisis” of obesity. It was jarring in a book where I didn’t notice other overtly oppressive language. He interviews enough women scientists that I didn’t feel the need to go back and count how many women and men there were. I don’t know how many were people of color.

Highly recommended for everyone who is experiencing our highly disconnected, advertising-saturated, chronically insecure society.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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