Are depression and anxiety a collective problem or an individual problem?

Is the medical model on target with fixing brain chemistry via its powerful array of pharmaceutical interventions or is there another vantage point from which to view mental illness?

Could the causes of depression and anxiety run deeper and wider than the physical make-up of our brains?

For Mental Health Awareness Month, we did a deep-dive into Johann Hari’s groundbreaking book, “Lost Connections.” Our Impact Director Wendy O’Leary offers the following insights.

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This book will take you on a journey to some deeply entrenched crevices, the thin ice of deception and some high mountain ledges as it breaks up the solid ground the medical model has been standing on, exposing the quicksand of ‘quick-fixes’ and giving you peaks at new vistas and possibilities. This journey will excite you and scare you and challenge you to rethink your beliefs about depression and anxiety.  

In his book, Johann Hari states that “loneliness is a product of the way we live.” He then demonstrates through stories and research how those of us living in the modern westernized world are largely disconnected from other people, meaningful work, meaningful values, our childhood traumas, status and respect, the natural world and disconnected from a hopeful and secure future. He also acknowledges that some depression and anxiety have biological causes.

Hari shows how the symptoms of grief and depression are nearly identical and postulates that people are depressed because they are grieving the lost connections that all humans need to be happy, fulfilled and mentally healthy. He blames the culture that we have collectively created, not the individual sufferer, for this widespread disconnection and the resulting rampant depression and anxiety we see today.

In his book, he proposes several ideas for collectively changing the way we live and reconnecting in many of these important areas.

He shares his own journey of depression and anxiety and how he grappled with and resisted coming to terms with the fact that the story he was sold as a teen about his “broken brain” wasn’t true.

Johan begins with a story of a life-threatening physical illness that he experienced in a remote foreign land. He recounts how he was begging for medication and the doctor told him, “you need your nausea” and it turned out that his nausea and the accompanying pain saved his life.

He concludes his well-researched and well-written book by saying, “You need your nausea. You need your pain. You need to listen to the message. All these depressed and anxious people all over the world – they are giving us a message. They are telling us that something has gone wrong in the way we live. We need to stop trying to muffle, silence or pathologize this pain. Instead, we need to listen to it, honor it. It is only when we listen to our pain that we can follow it back to its source – and only there, where we can see its true cause, can we begin to overcome it.”

Discussion Questions

  • How does it land for you that depression and anxiety are a “collective” problem and not an “individual” problem?
  • Did you have any beliefs about mental illness that shifted after reading this book? If so, what were they and tell us about the shift you experienced.
  • In his book, Johann, in talking about our American westernized culture states that “loneliness is a product of the way we live.” Would you agree with this statement and why or why not?
  • Johann lists nine major areas of disconnection and causes of depression/anxiety. Which one(s) spoke to you the most and/or which one(s) do you feel the most strongly about?
    Disconnection from:
    1. Meaningful Work
    2. Other People
    3. Meaningful Values
    4. Childhood Trauma
    5. Status and Respect
    6. Natural World
    7. Hopeful and Secure Future (faith)
    8. Genes/DNA
    9. Brain changes

Would you like to participate in future virtual bookclubs? Please let us know if you’re interested and if you have any suggested reading materials. Contact [email protected]

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