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The real causes and cure for depression

I was never formally diagnosed, but the fact that one drunken night in my early 20s I grabbed several packets of paracetamol and downed as many as I could with a bottle of Lambrusco and an intention to not be here the next day, was perhaps an indication that I wasn’t jumping for joy inside.

It didn’t work btw. 🙂

I think I went unconscious, because all I remember was waking up with my dog Edward and cat Mince Pie lying next to me on my bed, as I lurched up, leant over, and hurled up a load of blue and yellow sick all over my book about the Beatles music I’d been reading. The blue and yellowness was caused by the colour of the capsules encasing the paracetamol.

The years in between then and now are a bit blurry (not due to alcohol I hasten to add) just in terms of the sequence of events and lightbulb moments. But I do know that ever since that experience, combined with the impact that my very first self-help book had on me (called Weekend Life Coach by Lynda Field), (given to me by my sister), I have been very interested in finding a better way to do life. I wanted to understand what was going on in me, and why I was compelled to do what I did when nothing really bad had ever happened to me.

Fast forward 22 years, and I’m now an Executive Coach specialising in helping people at a crossroads in their careers. However, our conversations are rarely just about their careers, and a big proportion of my time is spent working with people and their emotions. Whether that is anxiety, depression, frustration or anger – all often disguised under the banner of stress.

In my quest to understand our emotions better I have come across probably the most insightful and game changing book about depression, anxiety and grief that I have ever read. Over the last couple of weeks, I have found myself telling so many friends and coaching clients about it, that it made sense to write this article to tell more people.

Given the ever growing and brilliant focus we are now placing on mental health (I personally think it should be called Emotional Health btw) I believe this book would be useful for anyone suffering from depression, anxiety or grief, as well as HR Directors, Leaders and Managers looking to support their people, and Executive Coaches who’s clients may be experiencing any mental or emotional health issues.

The book is called Lost Connections by Johann Hari. 

Johann has done a ton of research over many years and across many countries covering different angles about depression, as well as using his own personal experience as reference too.

He found that the old story of – “there is something wrong with your brain and that is why you are depressed”, to be misleading and in many cases wrong.

His core argument is that prescription drugs, whilst they may help a few, are not the best solution for most people with depression. This is because they do not address the real causes of depression and anxiety, but instead simply put a plaster over the symptoms (and sometimes not that good a plaster either).

He’s not saying, and nor am I, that the pills don’t work, they absolutely do help some people, over short periods and when combined with other things. He is just saying that the cause and cure for depression does not wholly lie in the level of certain chemicals in your brain, and therefore cannot solely be fixed by a drug that increases them, especially not over the long term.

He also identified that any form of trauma in childhood was often linked to depression in adulthood.

But the more poignant discovery for me was that he found that a loss of connection (and I don’t mean to WiFi) could also bring about depression.

He found that there are 6 key areas where a lost connection was linked to depression, these are:

A loss of connection to

1.   Other people

2.   Meaningful work

3.   Meaningful values

4.   Status and respect

5.   The natural world

6.   A hopeful or secure future

I totally recognise the feeling of a lost connection to people when I was in my 20s, as well as a lost connection to a hopeful future. I vividly remember the struggle I had with the big questions like – What’s the meaning of life? Why am I here? And, what’s the point to it all? In my 20s I had yet to find an adequate answer to any of them!

To some extent I also don’t really recognise the person I was in my 20s. But I do feel sad for them. I also feel embarrassed to have gotten myself into that state. As well as quite exposed sharing this. I hear a voice in my head telling me off, saying – “stop making a big deal out of this”. “No one wants to hear this”. “People will think you’re weak and less of a person if you share this”. “Friends will drop you”. “Friends will be upset that you never told them”. “Your credibility as a coach will be questioned……”

Oh my word, on and on. So, with all that going on in my head I grit my teeth, embrace the vulnerability, and hit publish.

I wish I could go back in time and give Johann’s book to my 20-year-old self. His conclusion makes so much sense to me. His answer to helping people with depression appears to be a combination of a biological, psychological and social approach, not just the singular biological one that many doctors often lead you to believe and give you pills to correct.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the research and ideas in the book, here’s a link to a podcast TED interview given by Johann Hari, and a link to his book. I absolutely believe this book deserves the accolade of life changing! I’d love to know what you think.

Find Johann Hari’s book here