Lost connections: The Real Cause of Depression

It’s generally accepted wisdom that people are more anxious and unhappy today than in the past, and that this is a result of the busy, stressed modern world we all live in. That pressure and stress has led to record levels of depression and anxiety.

Perhaps that’s true. But walking through the Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley made me realize how uncertain life was even a hundred years ago. The grounds are filled with tombs of people cut down in the prime of life — 20’s and 30’s — not to mention dozens of children’s graves as well. So when we talk about the stress of today’s world, surely there’s no comparison. After all, what could be more stressful than seeing your friends and family members regularly die at young ages, to lose your wife in childbirth, or see your infant pass away — and then another infant? All the while knowing that you could be struck down yourself at any time with diseases whose transmission and origin were a complete mystery. Surely these earlier generations would have far more anxiety and unhappiness than us. There has never been a generation as free from the danger of premature illness, death and loss than us.

And yet, here we are, depressed, anxious and miserable despite the relative safety and security of our world. We’re then told that the answer to these problems lie within us, that we must take anti-depressants, or anti-anxiety medication, or stimulants to fix our brains because we have a chemical imbalance. But perhaps it’s not what’s going on inside us that’s warped. Neither is it the pace of modern life. Instead, as Johann Hari argues in his recent book Lost Connections, it is our isolation, isolation which is a result of lost connections.

What does Hari say we’ve lost? He offers a number of things, but three of the critical ones are connections to each other, to solid values and to meaningful work.

Connections to each other