Tuesday, October 23, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Lost Connections

Hari, Johann (2018) Lost Connections: Uncovering the real causes of depression—and the unexpected solutions. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

I’ve been thinking lately about the contagion of anger in our society: hate speech at political rallies, school shootings, road rage, cyber-bullying. I’ve wondered if it’s a symptom of a sick society: our focus on material goods, status, individual achievement. Mix into that stew major economic and demographic changes, and voila, we have developed a dysfunctional, disrespectful society. I was talking to the Sedona City Councilors lately and some talked about the vitriol they have to endure. “It’s okay,” they say, they’re used to it, inured to it. 
But it’s not okay. We can disagree without being disagreeable. We can assume a positive intent and not attribute evil values to people’s positions. Isn't that part of growing up, learning how to express yourself appropriately and productively? Why has this verbal abuse become socially acceptable? It's generally not acceptable in the workplace, in schools, in churches, in homes. Why have we allowed this to become acceptable in public? We still enforce other social norms (like not taking off all your clothes in public.) Why don't we have a way to give people the equivalent of a time-out, a chance to get their emotions under control so they can express themselves appropriately?
Related to these musings about the state of our society, I just read Lost Connections about research into the causes of depression. I see a connection between the causes of depression and the anger in our society. 
For decades we have been told that depression and anxiety are in your head, chemical imbalances that Big Pharma just happens to have a cure for. Hari, who has lived with depression, researches what may be a much larger cause: our society. In many ways, depression and anxiety are an expected, normal reaction to what life dishes up for some people. We can’t cure most depression with a pill (at least not alone); we need to address the underlying situation (eg, financial insecurity, the boss from hell, an abusive spouse, etc.) Hari travels the world to talk to researchers uncovering these findings.

Hari identifies 9 causes of depression (which I think might also be fueling anger):

·      disconnections from meaningful work— People need a sense of control over their workplace so he recommends worker owned cooperatives
·      disconnections from other people— When you’re depressed, the world tends to become all about you so the antidote is to do something for others.
·      disconnections from meaningful values— Our values have been perverted by advertising so he shares places that have outlawed billboards and advertising to children. What if we outlawed ads that were designed to make you feel bad about yourself? he wonders.
·      disconnections from childhood trauma— Doctors treating obesity haven’t been taught to ask, When did you start gaining weight and what was going on before then. For every type of traumatic experience a child may experience, they are radically more likely to be a depressed adult. And if a child experienced 7 of those traumas, they were 3100% more likely to attempt suicide as an adult.
·      disconnections from status and respect—Primates tend to have hierarchies but the ones at the bottom have constant stress. The ones at the top have stress when they are being challenged. Being ‘down’ (how depressed people often describe how they feel) is actually a submissive response. So why not de-emphasize hierarchy as a control mechanism and make democracy about more than voting every 4 years?
·      disconnections from the natural world—Even prisoners were 24 percent less likely to get physically or emotionally ill if they could see nature from their cells vs their other inmates looking at concrete walls.
·      disconnections from a hopeful or secure future—Hari shares the research into a universal basic income.
·      genes—according to research with twins, 37 percent of the tendency is inherited. But if you put that into perspective, 90 percent of your height is. So a lot more is going on.
·      brain changes—Our brains change so if you’re depressed it does change your brain, making it more likely you’ll feel depressed.

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