Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions is published by Bloomsbury
When Johann Hari was 18 he took his first antidepressant. That morning he had visited a doctor and explained how, ever since he was small, he had battled with feelings of overwhelming sadness. When he wasn’t taking himself off to cry quietly, an anxious monologue would be running in his head. “Get over it,” it would say, “stop being so weak.” The doctor was reassuring, explaining that these feelings were to be expected since Hari was one of many people whose brain had depleted levels of serotonin. And so he prescribed some pills that would restore the balance. As Hari swallowed his first tablet, he says, “it felt like a chemical kiss”.
It wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he thought of all the questions the doctor didn’t ask, such as: what was his life like? What was making him sad? What changes could be made to make life more tolerable? The push and pull between “reactive” depression (the kind that relates to our environment and life experience) and “endogenous” depression (where something goes wrong in the brain) forms the basis of Lost Connections, an eye-opening, highly detailed though sometimes frustrating investigation into the causes and cures of depression.
The book is part personal odyssey, in which Hari gets to grips with the flaws in his own treatment, and part scholarly reflection, where he sifts through the varying perspectives of scientists, psychologists and people with depression. In the first half, he examines the social and psychological factors that can cause reactive depression, which include hardship, trauma, loneliness, lack of fulfilment, absence of status and disconnection from nature. He casts a damning eye on the research practices of the pharmaceutical industry, which has a clear investment in the endogenous argument, and deftly debunks the popular notion that depression stems from faulty genes.