I am just reading Johann Hari’s wonderful new book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the real causes of depression–and the unexpected solutions. Hari is an investigative journalist, so his work is thoughtful and well researched, but he is a great storyteller and very accessible to a broader audience than academic research can be. Hari visited and interviewed scientists, policymakers, and ordinary people to put together an understanding of depression and anxiety, both of which he had experienced over much of his own life.
Hari’s formulation emphasizes the increasing disconnections we experience in modern life: from meaningful work, from our deepest values, from people and community. He presents interesting points of view that contradict some of what we have been told about our own inner experience and our response to our lives and to social changes. We are neither weak nor defective: we are responding in predictable ways to being more and more untethered in our lives.
Depression is one of the most intractable mind experiences because by virtue of its organization, it destroys the motivation to feel better and get better. We lose interest in our lives and in the people around us. We are unable to do those things which might help. Sometimes we do need other people to recognize that we are getting stuck and to try to do something about it. Sometimes we cannot even bring ourselves to act in our own behalf. The changes can be minor, like going out for lunch, especially with a friend, or they can be major, like moving to a different state. Sometimes we can get ourselves to take these small steps for ourselves, and sometimes we need help.
Hari’s book is a useful way of understanding our own inner mind states. It gives us back the power to actually change our experience, and it acknowledges the reality of the environments and experiences that lead to dysfunction. In other words, we may not have caused the problem, but we are responsible for solving it.