Johann Hari was 18 when he was first prescribed antidepressants for depression and anxiety. Initially, he felt better, but then he didn’t. So dosages were increased. Again, there would be some relief, but then it dissipated. Nonetheless, he continued to take the maximum dosage for the next 13 years, having been told that his depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in his brain and medication was the antidote that would help. At the age of 31, he decided to quit cold turkey (definitely not recommended!) and at the age of 39, still finding little to no relief, he set out on a global three-year quest to gain greater understanding of the causes and possible solutions to depression and anxiety. The results of his research form the thesis of his book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - And the Unexpected Solutions.
What Hari learned is that there are three main components to depression and anxiety that need to be addressed – biological, psychological and social. Pharmacological solutions are generally geared to helping with issues of biology; psychotherapy deals with the psychological, but until relatively recently, the social causes were not given their due. Through his research, Hari uncovers nine causes of depression; two are based on biology, but most are based on social disconnections from our world. Specifically, he writes about our Disconnections from Meaningful Work, Other People, Meaningful Values, Status and Respect, the Natural World, and a Belief in a Hopeful or Secure Future.
When we look back over the past two years, during which time most of us have become disconnected from some, if not all of these elements, it is no wonder that our mental health has suffered as much as it has. In a recent study undertaken by the World Health Organization, findings suggest a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. “One major explanation for the increase is the unprecedented stress caused by the social isolation resulting from the pandemic. Linked to this were constraints on people’s ability to work, seek support from loved ones and engage in their communities.”
In our attempt to fill the vacuum of feeling so disconnected, some of us have become overly connected to our work. In fact, 66% report being “comfortable with less social interaction than they had before the pandemic” and “28% of Canadian employees have trouble disconnecting after regular work hours.” The issue has become so worrisome that there is a new policy in Ontario for employees to disconnect from work outside of work hours.
So how do we reintegrate back into a world in which we have become comfortable isolating and in which we have become overly-immersed in our work? How do we start to feel better if we have developed symptoms of depression and anxiety? The answers seem to lie in reconnecting to those connections that we have lost and taking the risk to create new connections with ourselves and others.