Johann Hari,
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions,
Bloomsbury, US, 2018,

ISBN-13: 978-1408878682.

Lost Connections Depression

 

"In the book, he tells story after story of people who have benefited from the experience of community and had their depression healed...Hari has tapped into something which I think we all instinctively know, that to be truly happy in life we need other people and to belong to something bigger than ourselves."

The loss of relational connection in Western society is literally killing us. The levels of depression and anxiety we are experiencing have never been this high, and they are getting higher. Our doctors keep prescribing pills for us to take to medicate the pain. And they’re not working.

This is the scourge that Johann Hari tackles in his latest book, Lost Connections. It is destined to become a classic simply because more and more of us can relate to what he is saying.

Hari has experienced depression and anxiety himself, and some of the stories in his book tell of his confusion and how his attitude towards anti-depressant medication has changed over the years. 

To research for his book, Hari travelled all over the world speaking to all sorts of people an communities about how they relate to each other. It is these incredible stories of hope that make this book so attractive.

What Hari found as a result of his meticulous research was that anti-depressant medication is not the be all and end all of recovery from depression that it is made out to be. This is especially the case for people who are mildly depressed.

Hari is quick to make the point that anti-depressants are not useless, and that if you are using them and they are working for you, then keep taking them. But their effects are not nearly as high as having a supportive community around you.

What his research is showing is that it is now undeniable that the major cause of depression and anxiety is to do with our relationships, or lack of them. Hari goes through nine reasons why people get depressed and anxious and concludes that seven of them are not biological but are to do with the way we’re living. He then goes through seven things that help people recover from or prevent depression. They include healthy relationships, meaningful work, meaningful values, sympathetic joy, and healing childhood trauma.

Our society is built on individualism. We talk about being yourself, being your authentic self, being you. Hari says this is a furphy; it doesn’t help with depression. We need each other. 

In the book, he tells story after story of people who have benefited from the experience of community and had their depression healed. Some of the stand-out stories for me were of the community in a dilapidated part of Berlin who protested against rent increases, in the process convincing a lonely woman to not end her own life. Then there is the story of a major city in Brazil which has banned advertising, an example of participatory democracy in the workplace, and the astonishing (but, in reality, predictable) story of what happened when people in four different countries were told to try to make themselves happy for two hours every day.

Other points Hari makes include the fact the following:
• Only one other country in the world takes more anti-depressants than Australia;
• Every year for the last 40 years the rate of depression has increased;
• The Amish have very low levels of depression;
• We need belonging, meaning, a future that makes sense. Our culture is getting less and less good at meeting these needs;
• We are the loneliest culture that has ever lived. We are the first humans ever to try to disband our tribes, to try to live alone;
• In our culture, we are all homeless. Home is when people notice you’re not there. Too many of us are lonely. Home is not your four walls;
• Our epidemic of depression, anxiety and addiction are signals that are telling us that something is wrong in our culture;
• We have an individualistic belief about what it is to be happy, whereas other cultures have a collective view of happiness; and,
• In the UK, the average child spends less time outside than maximum security prisoners, who have to spend 70 minutes a day outside.

As I made my way through the book, the points Hari was putting forward made sense. Why else would it be that it is in the affluent and individualistic West that we have the highest rates of depression and anxiety in the world? Why else would it be that, while we have never been materially richer, and we have every technological advancement at our fingertips, where life is easier than it has ever been in human history, that more of us are killing ourselves than ever before?

It just doesn’t make sense that all of our depression is caused by faulty wiring in our brains. That might be part of the problem but it is not by any means the main issue. The evidence of decades and indeed centuries just doesn’t back it up.

Johann Hari is a self-declared atheist, but what he is saying is exactly in alignment to what Jesus said and the way He lived 2,000 years ago. Jesus asked what the point was of getting everything you want in life but losing your very sense of self. He said that life doesn’t consist in having more and more material possessions; He strongly warned against greed, even calling it idolatry, the gravest of sins.

Much of the church has fallen hook, line and sinker for this individualistic ‘gospel’. At a conference early this year, I heard a speaker decry individualism, but the very theology the people at this conference were proclaiming was one based on individual salvation and getting something for yourself, namely heaven when you die.

Hari has tapped into something which I think we all instinctively know, that to be truly happy in life we need other people and to belong to something bigger than ourselves. He has tapped into a universal truth, something that is hard-wired into our genes. And he painstakingly puts forth the evidence to back up his claims. He has done the research, interviewed the appropriate people, studied the relevant counter-arguments, and speaks from personal experience.

Lost Connections backs up the teaching and life of Jesus, and the facts of how God has made us. It is for these reasons that I very strongly recommend this book for Christian leaders and anyone who has suffered or knows someone who is suffering from depression. That is almost all of us.

To find out more, including listening to interviews Hari conducted for the book, go to https://thelostconnections.com/