Highlights from Lost Connections

One of the two most important books of the decade, alongside Dreamland:

“There’s no evidence that there’s a chemical imbalance” in depressed or anxious people’s brains, Professor Joanna Moncrieff—one of the leading experts on this question—explained to me bluntly in her office at the University College of London. The term doesn’t really make any sense, she said: we don’t know what a “chemically balanced” brain would look like. People are told that drugs like antidepressants restore a natural balance to your brain, she said, but it’s not true—they create an artificial state. The whole idea of mental distress being caused simply by a chemical imbalance is “a myth,” she has come to believe, sold to us by the drug companies.

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A few years ago, long after these Whitehall studies, the British government’s tax office had a problem, and they called Michael back to the civil service to ask him to help them—urgently—to find a solution. The staff investigating tax returns kept killing themselves.

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The higher up you went in the civil service, he found, the more friends and social activity you had after work. The lower you went, the more that tapered off—the people with boring, low-status jobs just wanted to collapse in front of the television when they got home. Why would that be? “When work is enriching, life is fuller, and that spills over into the things you do outside work,” he said to me. But “when it’s deadening,” you feel “shattered at the end of the day, just shattered.”

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Think about everything else we do to come together—like supporting your kid’s school, say. “In the ten short years between 1985 and 1994”17 alone, he wrote, “active involvement in community organizations … fell by 45 percent.” In just a decade—the years of my teens, when I was becoming depressed—across the Western world, we stopped banding together at a massive rate, and found ourselves shut away in our own homes instead.

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You are not suffering from a chemical imbalance in your brain. You are suffering from a social and spiritual imbalance in how we live. Much more than you’ve been told up to now, it’s not serotonin; it’s society. It’s not your brain; it’s your pain. Your biology can make your distress worse, for sure. But it’s not the cause. It’s not the driver. It’s not the place to look for the main explanation, or the main solution. Because you have been given the wrong explanation for why your depression and anxiety are happening, you are seeking the wrong solution.

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She had—as I mentioned before—grown up in a village in Turkey, and she thought of the whole village as her home. But when she came to Europe, she learned that you are supposed to think of home as just your own apartment, and she felt alone there. But when the protest began, she started to think of the whole housing project and everyone in it as her home. She realized she had felt homeless for more than thirty years, and now she had a home once again.

Johann Hari — Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions

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