Author: Diana Walla
You know that feeling. It’s hard to get off the couch, even though you have a million things to do. Sleep either swallows you up or seems elusive. Your appetite is non-existent, or it is ravenous, demanding food as though starvation were right around the corner. Things that used to be fun hold no appeal.
It's depression, and it is one of the most common mental health issues.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it affects 16.1 million adults in the U.S, or 6.7 percent of the population age 18 and above. That’s a whole lot of us. It is safe to say, if you don’t suffer from depression yourself, you know someone (probably many more than one) who does.
So, first in the treatment line-up is medication; psychiatrists typically treat these symptoms with chemical antidepressants. Research shows, though, that medicine should never be our only attack on serious depression. There are many other options currently under exploration by researchers all over the world. Many of these other options are strikingly effective. For milder forms of depression, they might be enough to keep things from getting worse.
In an interesting new book, Johann Hari, an award-winning journalist with a lifelong familiarity with anxiety and depression, travels the world in search of the latest research into the causes and treatment of depression (and depression’s loyal sidekick, anxiety). In Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, he describes nine contributing factors and proposes remedies for each. We’ll discuss three of those factors.
How Disconnection from Meaningful Work Contributes to Anxiety and Depression
The first cause explored by Hari is disconnection from meaningful work. In Great Britain, he interviews researchers who are looking into the world of work, and are finding a link between dull or repetitive work and people’s mood and psyche. As our work environments change in response to automation and new technology, some people find themselves in jobs that offer little intrinsic reward. As one researcher told the author, “the notion of what constitutes stress at work has undergone a revolution. The worst stress for people isn’t having to bear a lot of responsibility. It is having to endure work that is monotonous, boring, soul-destroying, where…their work touches no part of them that is them.” These researchers are also zeroing in on specific work environments, such as those where no matter how hard one works there is little recognition or reward. These are also big culprits in bringing on despair. So whether you need a different job or a new boss, if you find yourself bored or frustrated with work and also depressed, it might be worth looking at your options.
Disconnection from Other People as a Contributor to Depression
Another cause of depression is lack of connection to other people. We are relational beings. We are social by nature, even if there are differences among us in just how social. Researchers at the University of Chicago are studying the effect of our social connections on mood, with a special focus on how technology, from social media to video games, is contributing to isolation. Their results are startling. Being deeply lonely, they have found, is as stressful on the body as being physically attacked! Also, just being around people is not the only answer.
For relationships to be helpful, you must feel you are sharing things that matter to those people. Significantly, the research is strongly supportive of actual, face-to-face connection; so sharing your life on social media is not the answer. As the author states in regard to how much we have allowed technology to isolate us, “we – without ever quite intending to – have become the first humans to ever dismantle our tribes. As a result, we have been left alone on a savanna we do not understand, puzzled by our own sadness.” One of the best ways to really connect with someone else? Reach out and help someone. Being community and spending time or money for someone in need communicates – to them and to you – “we are a group, we belong together, we take care of each other.” And those things are healing.
Disconnection from Meaningful Values
Which makes you happier: a promotion, expensive car, newest phone, and great new outfit? Or spending time with family, doing things to make the world a better place, and helping other people? If you have stayed with me this far, Dear Reader, you know the answer. These results are clear and compelling: “Twenty-two different studies have…found that the more materialistic you become, the more depressed…and anxious you will be. Similar studies…in Britain, Denmark, Germany, India, South Korea, Russia, Romania, Australia, and Canada – and the results, all over the world, keep coming back the same.” The healing comes from stepping back from materialism and the quest for more stuff, which is easier said than done in our consumer-driven culture. But that is not enough; you have to replace this with people and activities that support more meaningful values, like relationships and personal growth and contributing to the wellbeing of others.
Other factors addressed by Hari include disconnection from childhood trauma, disconnection from status and respect, disconnection from the natural world, disconnection from a hopeful or secure future, genes and brain changes. It is a helpful read, since it gathers information from so many countries and so many fields. If you are interested, pick up a copy and let us know what you think!
To schedule an appointment with Diana Walla, LPC-S, LMFT-S, call 512-596-2924.