The Lost Connections by Johann Hari

I mentioned this book in my entry the other day and I really wanted to discuss it more.  Hari is a journalist who openly discusses his own battles with depression and anxiety as a young man.  He, like many of us, was put on anti-depressants.  Like many of us, he found success with anti-depressants, only to find their effectiveness waning.  He goes on to discuss nine different types of depression and anxiety, ways to reconnect and the various social causes of psychological illness.  This book opened my eyes in a lot of ways.  Much of what was said rang completely true.  At the same time, I found myself incredibly angry at some of the arguments Hari makes.

Let me do the angry part first, because I think that made more of an impact, at least in my mind, because it’s more dangerous.

Hari basically argues that anti-depressants are effective only in the short-term, and only then for a placebo effect.  This argument is partially – but only partially – supported by science.  I will say that it really made me do some research and I was dismayed at what I found. The record of anti-depressants in terms of long-term effectiveness is not a positive one.  The link above is actually for a Google search, not a specific article, and I’d encourage you to do your own research.

What’s my problem, then?  Easy: Hari completely dismisses the biological causes of depression, issues that legitimately may require depression to address.  While much research needs to be done on the specific biological components of depression, it is clear that there is a biological component. To dismiss that – and to thus dismiss biologically based treatments – is problematic and pseudo-scientific.  I have real issues with that, and I think that Hari is being disingenuous at best – and dangerous at worst – with this type of advocacy.

But.

Hari makes other, very persuasive arguments – ones that ring true, in my mind.  The one that hit me the most was these: The social element of mental illness.  Hari goes through a series of arguments about how our society is making us sicker: We have lost our connections to each other as we are busier and get more absorbed in our various electronic devices.  We are bombarded by “junk values,” that encourage materialism over intrinsic values and real connection to people.  We live in a sick world – last week’s news from Parkland is a great example – that make us depressed.

This much really made sense to me, and if this advice was taken by all of us, could be transformative.  Society’s obligation to deal with the mentally ill has to do with much more than just treating biological and psychological causes of mental illness – we have to address the social ones as well.

Anyway, is the book worth the read? In my opinion, yeah.  I think you have to read it with an entire shaker of salt, and keep in mind that some of what Hari says isn’t supported by science.  But much of it is, and hopefully, you can read between the lines, find the things that work for you and go from there.

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