Johann Hari is a British-Swiss writer and journalist who has written a very important book here, or at least extremely thought provoking. Hari himself has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety since his teenage years.
First let me say that you may not agree with the conclusions Hari comes to in this book, particularly if you are of a conservative leaning. However, you can disagree with the conclusions, but you can’t disagree with the research he quotes. Research doesn’t have a political slant, it just is what it is. So I would actually love to have a conservative type person read the actual research and then come up with some other, different conclusions so that we might have a variety of ideas.
Ok, on to the book itself. Hari starts the book by talking about how we think about depression itself. I think we have all heard (and maybe said?) the story about how if you are depressed, something has gone wrong with the neurotransmitters in your brain and you just need more seratonin. The problem is, this isn’t really proven. Many honorable experts Hari interviewed said this just isn’t true for the most part. That’s not to say that SSRI’s don’t help some people, but the numbers are frustratingly low. Remember that pharmaceutical companies have spent $100 billion dollars making sure we all believe this.
In addition, even in the DSM, we’ve seen in the past exceptions for the depression diagnosis for things like bereavement. And if you’re a therapist, I think we all agree that there’s no timeline for grief, and that it’s ridiculous that it’s not depression up to a point, and then it suddenly is! And Hari’s point is, why is grief an exception, but – say – your spouse of 20 years cheating on you and leaving isn’t? Isn’t that a form of grief too? Why do we then label it depression? So, some very interesting thoughts to start.
Hari’s main point is that for the most part, when people are depressed, it kind of makes sense based on what is happening in their lives. In other words, it’s a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances. Hari talks about the 9 causes of depression that he has come across in the hundreds of interviews he has done (he acknowledges that there may be more; these are just what he has come across). Two of those are about genetics and biology, but seven of them are forms of disconnection. Disconnection from: meaningful work, other people, meaningful values, childhood trauma, status and respect, the natural world, and a hopeful and secure future. Increasingly, our world is actually designed to force these connections, and that is why Hari’s solutions are about changing society and the world to provide more of these connections for people.
Therefore, his solutions are forms of reconnection. Reconnection to: other people, social prescribing, meaningful work, meaningful values, sympathetic joy, addiction to the self, overcoming childhood trauma and restoring the future. Again, his solutions are just his solutions. I think we can all agree that the disconnections are there; we might disagree on his solutions, which is fine.
I still think this is an eye-opening book for both therapists AND clients, because there is so much depression out there and the information is not always accurate. I think that it is quite affirming to tell clients that their reactions are somewhat normal – that anyone would be depressed in their situation. I also still think antidepressants can sometimes be helpful, but we can all probably agree that they are problematic. I really, really liked this book and think anyone could benefit from reading it. I look forward to more from Johann Hari!
Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon Affiliate link and I receive a small compensation for purchases made through this link.