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  • Writer's pictureXinyu Long

Bridge to Belonging: A Therapist's Review of "Lost Connections" by Johann Hari

In the book "Lost Connections," journalist Johann Hari discusses his personal journey with depression. Initially, he believed, much like the enduring stigma surrounding mental illness still does, that "it's all in my head" — a sign of weakness and embarrassment. After being introduced to medications, he became intrigued by the biological aspect, attributing it to a malfunctioning brain.

Upon realizing that he still struggled with depression despite being on antidepressants for years, Hari embarked on a lifelong journey to discover "Why am I still depressed? Why are there so many people like me?"

He began to ponder: "What if depression is a form of grief — for our own lives not being as they should or a grief for the connections we have lost, yet still need?" After years of researching and interviewing, Hari concluded that there are several potential societal and environmental causes for mental health issues. His answers suggested that the primary causes of the rising rates of depression and anxiety are largely rooted in the world and the way we live in it.

Disconnection from Meaningful Work:

Jobs perceived as lacking in meaning may lead to heightened stress, burnout, and a decline in self-esteem. The absence of engagement and positive social interactions in such roles can contribute to feelings of isolation and negatively impact emotional well-being.

Additionally, the existential void created by work lacking in significance may prompt individuals to grapple with profound questions about the purpose and meaning of their lives, potentially giving rise to existential anxiety and distress.

Disconnection from other people

Loneliness induces a social withdrawal, leading individuals to become more cautious of any interpersonal interactions. This heightened vigilance results in increased fear, even towards essential social connections, as individuals start to perceive potential threats in situations that should offer support and comfort.

Disconnection from meaningful values

Hari explores the impact of consumer culture and the lack of control in shaping one's life. He urges readers to reflect on the values influencing their choices, emphasizing the pervasive messages discouraging actions aligned with genuine satisfaction and inner peace. The prevailing cultural narrative encourages individuals to remain on the consumerist treadmill, promoting the idea that spending recklessly is the solution to emotional distress, despite the conflict with one's true desires and well-being.

Disconnection from status and respect

Depression emerges as a response to the widespread feelings of humiliation inflicted by the modern world. Media messages, particularly through television, often convey the notion that only celebrities and the wealthy hold significance in society, fostering a pervasive sense of vulnerability for many.

This insecurity is not limited to those with lower economic status, as even the middle class is increasingly made to feel uncertain about their standing.

Research indicates that the distress associated with an insecure social status surpasses that linked to a low status. In societies marked by significant income and status disparities, the presence of supremely important individuals and others perceived as unimportant intensifies stress, leading individuals to constantly question their position and potential threats, thereby further burdening their lives.

Disconnection from Nature:

Nature has been shown to have a positive impact on mood, stress reduction, and overall well-being. When people are disconnected from nature, they miss out on opportunities for relaxation, rejuvenation, and the restoration of cognitive resources.

Urban lifestyles and technology-driven societies that limit exposure to natural settings may contribute to heightened stress levels, decreased attention spans, and an increased prevalence of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The disconnection from the natural world can disrupt the balance that nature provides, contributing to a sense of disorientation and the erosion of mental resilience.

Disconnection from secure future:

When a society has become more stable, there’s very limited upward mobility for the younger generation. It’s easier for them to lose a predictable sense of the future, contributing to depression and anxiety. The absence of a clear and secure path forward may induce a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness, contributing to feelings of despair and low mood. Additionally, the lack of a perceived secure future may hinder long-term goal-setting and motivation, as individuals may struggle to envision positive outcomes or meaningful progress.

Trauma and Childhood trauma:

Exposure to adverse events, such as abuse, neglect, or witnessing violence, can disrupt healthy emotional and psychological development. These traumatic experiences may lead to the dysregulation of the stress response system and alterations in brain structures involved in mood regulation. Moreover, individuals who have experienced trauma may develop maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as avoidance or self-destructive behaviors, to manage the overwhelming emotions associated with their past.

As therapists at New Hope, we view human beings as a complex whole rather than as sets of coexisting symptoms. We employ a holistic and multifaceted approach when working with individuals. At New Hope, we offer career counseling designed to foster connections to meaningful work by guiding individuals through self-discovery, skills assessment, and exploration of career options.

Additionally, we provide therapies such as ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) to help individuals identify their values, encouraging exploration of core beliefs and guiding principles. We also incorporate postmodern therapies (feminist therapy, narrative therapy, relational cultural therapy) as a foundation to understand clients' external environments.

Our focus is on recognizing power imbalances and societal inequalities that can impact people's lives, and we strive to empower individuals to take control of their own lives and decisions by exploring and expressing their strengths, values, and aspirations. As the therapeutic process unfolds, our hope is that clients can rebuild the connections they may have lost in society.

As Hari said in the book, “Ask not what’s inside your head, ask what your head is inside of.”

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