Depression and "Lost Connections"
Since I was a kid, I’ve spent every year reading as many books as I could get my hands on. Reading has always been one of my favorite hobbies and it’s an act of mindfulness that keeps me sane from day-to-day. Nowadays, I tend to switch between fiction (my first love) and nonfiction. Because I’m not in school, I find it particularly helpful to read books about therapy and mental health so I can stay on the top of my game and stay informed. Occasionally, one of these books will rock my world, and I find myself thinking, “this is totally going to change my work.”
“Lost Connections” by Johann Hari is one of those books. Hari’s book posits what I believe a lot of us instinctively know but rarely think about: the idea that at the root of depression lies a disconnect from the most important parts of life. We all have basic human needs, and it’s shockingly easy to drift away and end up not having some of these needs met.
Disconnect from Meaningful Work: People have different philosophies on this – I often hear that it’s “very millennial” to think that you should feel passionate about your work. It is called “work,” after all. But I sometimes have the experience of clients telling me that they feel depressed, and they’re not quite sure why. Then, when I ask about work, they’ll tell me that they spend 40 hours a week working a job where they don’t feel valued, they don’t really care about what they do each day and it doesn’t really stimulate them. It’s no wonder. Of course, getting in touch with your version of “meaningful work” can be difficult (for more on this, see our other post about “being bold”).
Disconnect from Meaningful Relationships: Do you spend your time with people who help you feel heard and understood? Do you feel seen and valued for who you really are? Do you spend enough time being social? Or are you someone who spends lots of time out with other people that you don’t really feel a connection with?
Disconnect from Our Values: Are you in touch with your values and do you live by them? And are you more motivated by intrinsic goals, or extrinsic? I actually wrote my undergrad thesis on this subject (“Internalizing Problems and Goal-Setting Among Affluent High School Girls”). Spoiler: the more driven you are by extrinsic goals (i.e. money, popularity) the more likely you are to feel depressed and anxious.
So if you know you’re feeling disconnected – what’s next?
I believe that we can conceptualize a lot of mental health issues (like depression and anxiety) as being like an onion: there are layers and layers, and somewhere in there is the core. These lost connections are at the core. Peeling away those layers can take time and hard work – in the meantime, how do you deal with the fact that getting out of bed feels next to impossible and these dark thoughts keep swirling around in your head? Managing those symptoms while you work on peeling back layers is just as important. Schedule activities, and stick to them, even if it means accomplishing one, itty bitty thing each day. Take baby steps. Do just one thing today. Print off the list of what we call “cognitive distortions” (google it) and keep it handy so that you can start to catch yourself when you start thinking in ways that further depression. Use a journal to reflect on your thoughts and challenge them. Practice validating your emotions. Have someone you can talk to whom you trust. Also, exercise. Start small if that’s what it takes. Studies have shown that exercise can be just as effective as an antidepressant in treating depression.
Hari’s book covers several other causes of depression, including disconnect from childhood trauma (which is a big one). Something else that’s glaringly absent from this post is biological causes of depression, like genetics, and postpartum depression. But as you work towards getting to the core, it is always worth taking stock and asking yourself – what am I needing or lacking? What am I hungry for in my life?