The Malady of Lost Connections

I just finished reading the most important book that I’ve encountered in years: “Lost Connections,” by Johann Hari. It succeeds in doing what its subtitle claims: “Uncovering the real causes of depression—and the unexpected solutions.”

As one of the many people who have struggled with depression, I greatly appreciate the insights that Hari shares in this book. My appreciation extends well beyond this, however, for this book isn’t just about depression and anxiety. It is also a thoughtful and thoroughly researched assessment of modern society. Depression and anxiety are symptoms of deep and systemic flaws in our modern, industrialized, consumerized, and technologized world, which has caused us to lose vital connections that are essential to human fulfillment. As it turns out, depression and anxiety are clear signals that something is very much amiss with our world.

If you collect all of the research data regarding anti-depressants—not just what the pharmaceutical industry has made public—and assess it without bias, you will find that depression is not the result of a chemical imbalance. There is no credible evidence that boosting serotonin actually reduces depression beyond the placebo effect. Furthermore, even though research indicates that some genes can predispose us to respond to our circumstances with depression, the causes of depression do not reside in human biology. Rather, they are rooted in human society and, in some cases, in traumatic experiences. Nevertheless, depression and anxiety are almost always treated by the medical community with drugs that are designed to correct a chemical imbalance that isn’t the cause. This approach has failed miserably.

As the book’s title suggests, depression and anxiety are rooted in disconnections:

  • Disconnection from meaningful work
  • Disconnection from other people
  • Disconnection from meaningful values
  • Disconnection from childhood trauma
  • Disconnection from status and respect
  • Disconnection from the natural world
  • Disconnection from a hopeful or secure future

It took Hari several years to track down the data and interview the experts, resulting in an incredible story. These disconnections are intricately woven into the fabric of modern society. Nevertheless, there are still places where depression and anxiety are rare. In those places still exist the connections that have been disrupted elsewhere.

There are steps that we can and should take as individuals to reestablish the connections that are vital to our lives, but the full solution lies in societal change. Hari lays out many of the steps that we can take to make this happen. Societal change isn’t easy and it takes time, but it’s the only thorough and lasting solution. The change that’s needed doesn’t require the rejection of useful advances in science and technology, but we must embrace these artifacts of modernity more intelligently and with greater care.

Please read this book. Please contribute to the restoration of connections in society that humankind sorely needs to endure and thrive.

3 Comments on “The Malady of Lost Connections”


By Jim Linnehan. August 14th, 2018 at 10:08 pm

Stephen, thanks very much for your enlightening post.

By Chris W. September 7th, 2018 at 2:17 pm

Hi Steven, from the perspective of anxiety, I thought about this blog post after reading this fascinating article about research on brain cell research: https://www.newsweek.com/scientists-discover-bravery-cells-brain-which-could-play-key-role-anxiety-1110533

By stephenfew. September 7th, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Hi Chris,

Apparently the research into anxiety and depression overall suggests that these ailments are not typically determined by genetics. Certain genetic conditions can predispose people to experience anxiety and/or depression, but they don’t determine these ailments. Someone who is genetically predisposed to these ailments will typically not succumb to them if they experience connections to meaningful work, other people, etc. The basic message here is that we cannot effectively treat these ailments through drugs or genetic manipulation. The best treatments help people reconnect to that which makes life worthwhile. If you haven’t read the book, I would encourage you to do so.

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