Week 5: Lost Connections
Hi everyone! Welcome back to my blog!
This week, I started reading a book by Johann Hari called Lost Connection in which the author listed the ten reasons for depression. In the introduction, the author described his own experience when realizing that he is depressed, the first solution that came to his mind was antidepressants. This reaction is common not just to the author himself, but to most other patients with depressive disorders, and illustrates exactly how impactful the chemical imbalance theory was.
In Chapter 1, the author explained his findings when he researches antidepressants. Giant pharmaceutical companies withheld data about antidepressants that could hurt their profit. Originally, I thought that medication played at least a 40% role in reducing or treating depressive disorders. However, as presented in the book, as early as 1998, a study done by Irving Kirsch and Guy Sapirstein found that “25 percent of the effects of antidepressants were due to natural recovery, 50 percent were due to the story you had been told about them, and 25 percent to the actual chemicals” (pg.27). In 2004, Paxil (an antidepressant)’s manufacturing company, GlaxoSmithKline was sued because they failed to warn doctors about the effects of Paroxetine. In the three secret clinical trials GlaxoSmithKline had done on adolescents with major depressive disorders, none showed the success of the chemical. These facts about the incompetence of antidepressants shocked me. Even though they are known to be ineffective, they are still prescribed to adolescents to this day as a solution to mental disorders.
Later, the author discusses the social origins of depression. In a study by George Brown and Tirril Harris, it was found that women that had experienced severe negative events or long-term sources of stress and insecurity are three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression. Furthermore, if women do not have any supportive partner or friends, it is more likely that they develop depression when negative life events happen. The author’s experience is consistent with what I learned in the Johns Hopkins course, that protective factors such as a confidant, are significant when it comes to preventing clinical depression, especially in females.
Subsequently, in part two, the author starts introducing the common causes of clinical depression he concluded through interviewing different social scientists who study the correlation between environment and clinical depression. He found nine different disconnections. The first disconnection, the author states, is the disconnection from meaningful work. By citing a study by Gallup conducted across the world in 2011, the author demonstrated that 63 percent of people are not engaged in their work and 24 percent are actively disengaged. Although this specifically targets adults who have jobs, I wonder how it could be applied to students at school. I find it fascinating when the author mentions the loss of connection with other people. First, he talks about how much loneliness affects our bodies. The emotion of feeling alone can lead our body to produce as much cortisol (a hormone that represents stress) as someone who is about to be punched in the face by a stranger. Secondly, he discusses how the use of the internet changed our interaction with other people in reality. The author stresses that online social cannot be a substitute for in-person interactions. Additionally, the author concludes that depression can also be caused by the disconnection from meaningful values (instead of the pursuit of wealth and purchasing products), disconnection from childhood trauma, and disconnection from status and respect. (I’m specifically interested in the role of social media in this)
Next week, I will be researching the treatments for clinical depression, besides medication.
Week 6: Reconnect
May 05, 2023
Hello everyone, and welcome back to my blog! This week, I continued reading Johann Hari’s Lost Connections and completed part two of the book, which concludes all nine causes listed by the author. In addition to the five disconnections I mentioned in last week’s blog, disconnection from the natural world, disconnection from a hopeful or secure future, and genes can also be causes of major depression.
As I delved deeper into the last chapter of part two, where the author talks about the stigma against depression, I found it interesting that depression patients are often stigmatized because people assume they are incapable of coping with their emotions and are just lazy. The chemical imbalance theory, which portrays depression as a brain disease, was meant to counter this stigma. However, even though depression is a disease, it doesn’t automatically lift the stigma, as AIDS patients still face a lot of stigma despite being afflicted with the disease. The author suggests that if we justify depression as a disease caused by stressful life events instead of it only happening to people with a brain disease, it could happen to anyone. However, the latter theory is harder to promote.
The author also connects depression with neuroplasticity, which means that our brains are constantly changing and developing according to our life experiences. He gives an example of London taxi drivers, whose brain scans show that parts representing spatial sense are more active than others. Our brain changes depending on how we use it. The scans of the brain only show a snapshot of what the brain looks like at a given time. Our brain prunes synapse that we do not use and strengthens those we do use to adapt to our needs. If we experience distress for an extended period, “your brain will assume this is the state in which you are going to have to survive from now on–so it might start to shed the synapses that relate to the things that give you joy and pleasure and strengthen the synapses that relate to fear and despair” (p.179). However, this is not irreversible because of the brain’s neuroplasticity.
To reconnect and heal from depression, the author suggests establishing connections with other people, meaningful work, and value. I will finish the book next week and explore further how effective these strategies can be. I have also contacted many psychologists this week and plan to continue doing so next week to prepare for the scheduled interviews.
That’s all for this week! Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next week.