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Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari, Bloomsbury USA, US $28.00, Pp 336, January 2018, ISBN 978-1632868305

Depression and anxiety are two most common mental illnesses in the developed world. More than 18 million people in America alone suffer from these illnesses. Almost every sixth American takes a drug for these illnesses but few succeed in curing them. Like tens of millions of people, journalist Johann Hari also suffered from deep depression and anxiety since he was a teenager and believed what most of us believe that it was caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. As an adult and a trained social scientist, Hari decided to investigate the causes of depression and anxiety. He traveled more than 40,000 miles conducting his research over several years. His discoveries about the nature and causes of depression and anxiety are startling and show that what the Big Pharma tells us is not true and the anti-depression pills are not the solution. In Lost Connections, Johann Hari shares the findings of his research with his readers. His TED talk — ‘Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong’ — has been viewed more than 8 million times.

Hari says that the real causes of depression have been known to scientists for decades. He says that depression and anxiety have three kinds of causes – biological, psychological, and social. They are all real, and none of these three can be described by something as crude as the idea of a chemical imbalance. The social and psychological causes have been ignored for a long time, even though it seems the biological causes don’t even kick in without them. These causes aren’t some kooky fringe theory. They are the official conclusion of The World Health Organization (WHO) – the leading medical body in the world. The implications of Hari’s findings for your pain are massive.

Hari writes, “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.” Hari argues that every human being has these needs, and in our culture, we’re relatively good at meeting physical needs. Almost nobody actually starves, for example, which is an extraordinary achievement. But we’ve become quite bad at meeting these psychological needs. That’s a crucial reason why you – and so many of the people around you – are depressed and anxious.

Hari discovered that the patients with depression and/or anxiety are not suffering from a chemical imbalance in their brain. They are suffering from a social and spiritual imbalance in how we live. He writes, “Much more than you have been told up to now, it’s not serotonin; it’s society. It’s not your brain; it’s your pain. Your biology can make your distress worse, for sure. But it’s not the driver.” Hari argues that because you have been given the wrong explanation for why your depression and anxiety are happening, you are seeking the wrong solution. You do not look for answers in your life and your psyche and your environment and how you might change them because you are being told depression and anxiety are the results of the imbalance of chemicals in your brain. You become sealed off in a serotonin story. You try to get rid of the depressed feelings in your head. But that won’t work unless you get rid of the causes of the depressed feelings in your life.

Hari says that people suffering from depression and anxiety are at a fork in the road now. They can try to muffle the signal. That will lead them to many wasted years when the pain will persist. Or they can listen to the signal and let it guide them – away from the things that are hurting and draining them, and toward the things that will meet their true needs.

Lost Connections is a very well-researched book that will go a long way to revolutionize the way we look at and treat depression and anxiety. Hari’s research methodology was scientific and his findings go against what the big pharmaceutical business keeps feeding us in order to sell us the drugs that don’t cure us. Hari logically and scientifically shows us that something is wrong with how we think of depression and anxiety. Lost Connections will surely generate some controversy but you will change the way you think about depression and anxiety. This is a must-read book for you if you or one of your loved ones suffers from depression and anxiety.

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