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The Root Cause of Depression and How to Heal It

By Azriel ReShel on Friday July 27th, 2018

The Disease of Disconnection

We all know it, that dull ache of pointlessness, overwhelming sadness and a deep lack of interest in life. The fog of listless pain that blows in and then settles, trapping us inside it. Most of us have suffered at some point in our lives from depression. Be it a mild version following a major life event, or a more prolonged episode that can get so severe it entraps us in an ever compressing world of hopelessness to such an extent we consider ending our own lives.

Depression is one of the biggest issues in our world today. With record numbers of people suffering from the dark cloud, and soaring suicide rates, depression is a crippling disease reaching epidemic proportions.

Well-known author and journalist, Johann Hari, suffered from depression as a teen, taking anti-depressants from a tender age. Told, like so many others, his depression was the cause of a chemical imbalance in his brain, he later studied social sciences and embarked on a quest to discover the truth about the cause of his depression. He swallowed antidepressants like millions of others, and after 13 years of pills, without much change, and a broad investigation into the true causes of depression, he is calling for a different approach.

The Chemical Imbalance Myth

His amazing journey involved hundreds of interviews in over a dozen countries and led him to discover that almost everything we know about depression and anxiety is wrong.

The depression mythAlmost everything we know about depression and anxiety is wrong.

I started to research my book, Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, because I was puzzled by two mysteries. Why was I still depressed when I was doing everything I had been told to do? I had identified the low serotonin in my brain, and I was boosting my serotonin levels–yet I still felt awful. But there was a deeper mystery still. Why were so many other people across the Western world feeling like me? Around one in five US adults are taking at least one drug for a psychiatric problem. In Britain, antidepressant prescriptions have doubled in a decade, to the point where now one in 11 of us drug ourselves to deal with these feelings. What has been causing depression and its twin, anxiety, to spiral in this way? I began to ask myself: Could it really be that in our separate heads, all of us had brain chemistries that were spontaneously malfunctioning at the same time?

He says that between 65% and 80% of people on antidepressants are depressed again within a year.

We’ve been telling ourselves this chemical story for 35 years and every year depression and anxiety gets worse.

The Power of Connection

Searching for answers to his own depression, he began a quest to solve the depression puzzle.

Chemical imbalance in the brainMany people are told their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

To find the answers, I ended up going on a 40,000-mile journey across the world and back. I talked to the leading social scientists investigating these questions, and to people who have been overcoming depression in unexpected ways–from an Amish village in Indiana, to a Brazilian city that banned advertising and a laboratory in Baltimore conducting a startling wave of experiments. From these people, I learned the best scientific evidence about what really causes depression and anxiety.

Drugs don’t heal the underlying causes of depression. In most cases, like Johann Hari’s, people aren’t even asked what’s going on in their life, or if there could be a possible cause of the depression. Johan’s research is strongly grounded in his own experience. He has battled the depression demon for much of his adult life and has a keen understanding of what it is to be depressed and all that entails.

I found there is evidence that seven specific factors in the way we are living today are causing depression and anxiety to rise–alongside two real biological factors (such as your genes) that can combine with these forces to make it worse.

During his journey of discovery he found scientific evidence that depression is caused by key issues with how we live. Seven of the nine depression causing factors he discovered are all rooted in disconnection. Disconnection from meaningful work, from other people, from meaningful values, and from childhood trauma. Disconnection from status and respect, from the natural world, and disconnection from a hopeful or secure future. Depression at its deepest roots, stems from a lack of connection. It is a disease of disconnection.

So What Does Heal Depression?

Understanding the root cause of depression is a vital first step in being able to cure it. Our longing for connection is innate. It never leaves us. Perhaps depression and anxiety are an early warning signal, an engine light alerting us to the malfunction in the car. Johann Hari says depression is a collective problem caused by something that has gone wrong with our way of living and our culture. These conditions show us there is something very wrong with the way society works. And, they give us an opportunity to make vital changes in our lives. He advocates reconnection, or what he calls a different kind of antidepressant.

A disease of disconnectionDepression at its deepest roots, stems from a lack of connection.

Depression and anxiety might, in one way, be the sanest reaction you have. It’s a signal, saying you shouldn’t have to live this way, and if you aren’t helped to find a better path, you will be missing out on so much that is best about being human.

His new book suggests seven reconnections. We need to reconnect to other people, to social prescribing, to meaningful work, and to meaningful values. Reconnect to sympathetic joy and overcome the addiction we have to the self. We also need to acknowledge and overcome our childhood trauma and restore our future. It seems what’s called for in healing depression, is a complete and radical reconnection. To someone who’s depressed this may seem deeply overwhelming. but in a way it’s about rebuilding our lives. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes and saying: I want something different. I know there’s more out there for me, I know there’s a different way and I don’t have to do it alone.

After I learned all this, and what it means for us all, I started to long for the power to go back in time and speak to my teenage self on the day he was told a story about his depression that was going to send him off in the wrong direction for so many years. I wanted to tell him: ‘This pain you are feeling is not a pathology. It’s not crazy. It is a signal that your natural psychological needs are not being met. It is a form of grief–for yourself, and for the culture you live in going so wrong. I know how much it hurts. I know how deeply it cuts you. But you need to listen to this signal. We all need to listen to the people around us sending out this signal. It is telling you what is going wrong. It is telling you that you need to be connected in so many deep and stirring ways that you aren’t yet–but you can be, one day.

Once again, as with most things in life, the map to finding our way out of pain and back to wellbeing, is connection. As humans we are built for connection, for love, and for intimacy.

Radical reconnectionAs humans we are built for connection, for love, and for intimacy.

What this evidence was telling me was that this search for quick individual solutions is a trap. In fact, this search for individual solutions is part of what got us into this problem in the first place. We have become imprisoned inside our own egos, walled off where true connection cannot reach us.

Stopping the Dark Slide of Depression

His research, from experts and people all over the world, found that the real path to happiness is to dismantle our walls, and that part of overcoming our depression and anxiety is about coming together. In his own healing journey, Johann Hari made a conscious decision to reach out to others when depression set in, and to do something for someone else instead of something for himself.

I learned something I wouldn’t have thought was possible at the start. Even if you are in pain, you can almost always make someone else feel a little bit better. Or I would try to channel it into more overt political actions, to make the society better.

Amazingly he discovered doing something for others stopped the slide down into the darkness of depression. It comes back to the same thing: We need to reach out to others, not try to build ourselves up alone.

If you are depressed and anxious, you are not a machine with malfunctioning parts. You are a human being with unmet needs. The only real way out of our epidemic of despair is for all of us, together, to begin to meet those human needs–for deep connection to the things that really matter in life.

For more information read Johann Hari’s New York Times best-selling book Lost Connections and watch Johann Hari: The Antidote to Loneliness.

Azriel ReShel

Writer, Editor, Yoga Teacher & Healing Facilitator

 

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28 Responses to The Root Cause of Depression and How to Heal It

  1. Some of the information is helpful. I am one of those people where medication has helped me tremendously and I also take a whole approach to depression and treat issues with counselling.

  2. Really insightful and very true in my case – I’m just not sure where to start as I have disconnected in 99% of the areas mentioned

  3. Good and tried information. Chemical imbalance is real. Some without medication cannot effect change. Isolation creeps in and downward one goes. When balanced and able to show up to meaningful work and keep connections going,
    Life becomes a fine working machine, one working part supporting the other. The discussion presents the idea of depression as being born of disconnection. Depression can be both born of disconnection and disconnected as a result of chemical imbalance. It’s both/and, not either/or.

  4. This is possibly for some people, but my depression was from leaky gut and my reaction to food. I get depression from sugar and preservatives even too many natural carbs

    • Please tell me more…especially about the sugar thing and too many natural carbs..where can I get information. I have long suspected this is a problem for me and have made changes, eating less, or no sugar. However, i always drift back to overdosing on sugar. Any comments?

  5. As someone who was diagnosed with a ‘chemical imbalance’, resulting in 14 years of trying to get off the medication so my husband and I could have a child, I wish I had read this 40 years ago. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for your work here. Yes i believe you captured some relevant aspects of depression and the healing process. However i also understand that the process of healing can vary but that is when the “chicken and egg” story can get in the way. As our food systems, our story of growth and progress, our toxic environments, the rise of the experts and the chemical fix, more- the cause and effect of depression and anxiety are not universal. Like dis-ease in the body we all carry possibilities, but our immune systems, if healthy maintain balance, equilibrium. I do not isolate the body from the mind these days and believe the old story of who, what and why “being and doing human” needs a real change. Joseph Campbell said “to change the world, change the metaphor.” This time a whole new story might be in the works and paying mindful attention , reaching out to others, connecting the dots is no doubt a big part of tit. Thank you. (BTW I have personal experience with the subject)

  7. This was a helpful article to be sure. But here is also something to consider…many people, like myself, with depression may not consciously loose the connection. People who don’t understand depression tend to distance themselves from the one going through the depression. I was even told once by who I thought was a very good friend, that she only wanted positive people in her life. By not being able to find that connection, we tend to withdraw and isolate, feeling that no one can understand or they choose not to–it may be uncomfortable for THEM. How many times have we been told to “smile!” or “get over it” or some such platitude. I only took medication for a year and because of cost had to stop. I have found ways to manage my depression without drugs. I tell myself if I have a bad day, I have a bad day and it is OK. There is no one “cure” and yes, it is a chemical imbalance (if your serotonin, which is a chemical is low, etc) so not a myth…..just one part of the puzzle. So much here I want to like and yet I believe “CURE” is deceptive and brings false hope. How to manage, how to balance, would help me personally more. Thank you for allowing me to share my perceptions.

  8. What if depression wasn’t just caused by one single thing? What if it may be chemical imbalance in some, lack of connection for others and maybe a bit of both for still others? And maybe something else entirely??? The problem is that for people who are have the deep connections and are still depressed, your article would maybe make them feel hopeless. I think the whole problem today is everybody wants to make it seem that there is ONE answer for everything. How to get rich, how to be successful, how to find love. We are each unique individuals – as unique as a snowflake 🙂 so why does everyone want to make it about one simple answer. Why to sell stuff of course!!!

  9. Disconnected … yes… root cause of human condition of Depression, anxiety and all other psychological thinking disease is Fear. Fear by its many coats is the absolutely demon. Imhe, Namaste

  10. Thank you for this informative and somewhat validating article. In my experience, ‘depression’ becomes a viscous cycle by eventually creating a chemical imbalance in the brain because of how one feels. The mind-body connection. On another note I would point out the use of the word ‘darkness ‘ as it is often incorrectly used. Can we stop injecting the word with judgement ? One suggestion if I may, the word ‘murkiness’ .

  11. Having had two long debilitating bouts with depression this concept is spot on. Through my losses triggering the episodes action despite desperarinfly deep depression, movement despite all inclinations of my body to be stagnant were key to resiliency. Going through the motions of living and my g daughter and my mother’s needs pushed me forward on days that it was all I could do to go from the couch to the bed and back again. Being needed and refusing to walk through life in a mundane haze pushed me on giving me courage to make changes and more dauntingly face the calamities causing the depression in the first place. The toughest part of coming out of the mind and heart numbing fog is to reclaim life which entails facing and fixing the issues that pile up during the dark times.

    Reaching out and accepting help without shame has been paramount in my recovery. As an addicttive personality struggles to face and gain control of their behaviors I have found the retraining of my behaviors to be as dauntingly rewarding. Gaining insight into though and behavior patterns has been crucial in my progress. Now I embrace feelings I once feared knowing the normal range and finding balance and acceptance. And a great therapist who gently yet firmly, patiently guided me through four years of intense CBT.

  12. Have just read all three articles that are linked together. The Dali Lama’s advice seems to be counter to what the two previous articles on this topic are saying, which is to simply acknowledge their pain. My husband has PTSD, depression and anxiety. My 20-year-old son recently died of a drug overdose after living with ADHD and anxiety all his life. In both cases, I have done my best to remind them of the possibility of positive thinking, of getting going, etc. I have also been accused of being an enabler, and so I have been on both sides of the fence. Right now, my heart is pounding out of my chest with the thought that I could have done things differently by not trying so hard to fix them.

  13. Thanks for sharing this informative blog. I really enjoyed your blog, it’s really well-informative and helped me a lot to understand the root cause of depression and how to heal it. Depression is a common mood disorder that can affect a person’s feelings, thoughts and body. I recently came across an article where they shared some symptoms of depression. Maybe you would like to add something from here-
    http://blog.nationalcollege.edu.au/blog/depressions-symptoms-signs-of-depression

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