Johann Hari – Causes of Depression
9 factors causing depression (7 are psychosocial, and 2 are biological)
Psychological reasons and upsets give rise to the physical symptoms of depression.
Disconnection from work that gives meaning and purpose (little control or autonomy in your work).
Disconnection from people (feeling profoundly lonely). Not sharing any meaningful experience with any other people.
Disconnection from meaningful values. Focusing on materialism, and doing things purely for extrinsic rewards instead of intrinsic reward.
Disconnection caused by childhood trauma. For every traumatic experience, you go through as a child it significantly increases the likelihood of a later diagnosis of depression.
Disconnection from respect. Modern life cultivates the view that status, celebrity and wealth are what denote success and anxiety over the loss of financial security and status often are underlying constant stress in people.
Disconnection from the natural world. Faced with the vista of the natural world we feel ‘small’ not ‘big’, and we feel like we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. Animals in captivity rock, lose interest in sex (why they are so hard to breed in captivity) and show other compulsive and depressive behaviors they don’t exhibit in the wild. We are animals. We need to be outdoors. Rates of depression when exercising in the natural world, and spending time outdoors all reduce in comparison to time spent outside. We often feel ‘more alive’ when outdoors in nature. Grounded.
Disconnection from loss of hope for a better future.
The role of genes and biology in depression. Neuroplasticity means the brain is continually growing and changing and does not stay the same. This means the concept of a ‘broken’ brain that cannot be fixed is not supported by current scientific evidence. However, distress from the external world and brain changes occur together which lead to depression. Johann Hari in his book “Lost Connections” on page 146, says that these changes in the brain can then “acquire a momentum of their own that deepens the effects from the outside world.”
Scientists have discovered that for depression there is a 37% genetic inheritance, BUT for those who carry the gene and are born with it — the inherited gene HAS to be activated by your environment.
It is WHAT happens to you in life that determines if that gene for depression is switched on or not.
Biological factors can influence depression as it has been proven that suffering either glandular fever or underactive thyroid can significantly increase the rates of depression in people who are vulnerable.
Some forms of bipolar are seen by some (not all) scientists as having a greater biological component, but psychosocial factors are still seen as influencing and affecting all forms of depression.
When I studied psychology at university, I learned about the bio-psycho-social model about mental health. However, when I went to the doctors with acute symptoms, not one doctor has ever asked me:
“What happened to you?”
What has happened in your life?
What happened in your childhood?
What happened to you in the last year that has been a major trigger?
What support systems do you have in your life?
Do you have friends?
Do you have a family? Do you have a supportive family?
How is your marriage?
How are your children? What is happening to them?
How is your job? Are you fulfilled at work?
A psychiatrist that I was referred to 20 years ago when I had attempted suicide asked me all these questions over the period I saw her. I do not think I would be alive today if it were not for her superb care and attention to help me create new meaning rebuilding my life.
But the doctor gave me a prescription for some pills, and I was out the door in 10 minutes. I was given a chemical solution.
None of them ever fully worked. I increased the dosages to the maximum each time.
I stayed on the medication for over five years the first time.
I lost my sex drive.
I put on weight.
I felt flat and numb.
But I felt I could not exist without the medication. At least I was alive. That is how I felt.
It felt like my emotional pain increased too much when I tried to come off the tablets.
I went back on medication nearly a year ago. This new antidepressant does not affect libido and is meant to have no side effects when you come off it (no withdrawal symptoms). I tried to go off it a few months ago and started to get panic attacks and so started it again.
I then started to see a therapist who does body somatic therapy based on the work of Dr. Peter Levine on healing people from complex PTSD.
I can feel huge changes within my body and my ways of thinking since I have been exploring this healing modality on a regular basis.
I was told by my doctor to stay on the antidepressant for a minimum of one year before I tried to come off it. So I am going to do that.
What do I make of all this research as put together and researched by Johann Hari?
It all makes complete sense to me.
Stress is usually characterized as an unpleasant and unwelcome feeling that expresses itself both physically and mentally. The effects of stress range from irritability and anxiety to raised blood pressure and heart disease. When you think of stress in these terms, it’s no wonder you spend so much time trying to manage or avoid it altogether.
But what if, instead of stressing over how to rid your life of stress, you focused on ways to use it to your advantage? What would happen if you perceived stress as a helpful companion with benefits to offer rather than as an irritating foe out to make your life harder?
As Dr. Kelly McGonigal describes in her book The Upside of Stress, it is this shift in mindset that allows you to have a healthier, even beneficial relationship with stress. Dr. McGonigal, a health psychologist, once shared the same stance a majority of health professionals have adopted: stress is bad and you need to eliminate it immediately before it affects your health. However, she discovered that perceiving stress through such a negative lens can actually be harmful to your health. On the other hand, when you view stress as a helpful tool and motivator, and learn how to harness it to your advantage, your health is less likely to be negatively affected. In fact, stress may actually be good for you if you learn to embrace it and use it properly.
Benefits of Stress
Often when you think of stress, the first thing to come to mind are its negative symptoms (i.e., panic, headache, tightening in the chest, etc.). But stress actually has an abundance of benefits to offer, such as:
Stress can serve as a great motivator for reaching goals or accomplishing simple tasks. Whether it’s landing a new job promotion, meeting a deadline, or tackling a to-do list, a little stress can push you to take action. If you didn’t feel any stress at all, you might not feel inclined to break out of your comfort zone, which is essential for personal growth.
When you experience small amounts of stress, you are actually building up your resistance to future stressors. According to the American Psychological Association, over time humans are wired to adapt to stressful situations by building personal coping systems.
Boosting Cognitive Function
A 2013 study from the University of California – Berkeley found that acute stress can generate new nerve cells in the brain, improving cognitive and mental performance. According to the authors of the study, a certain amount of stress can promote:
- Optimal levels of focus
- Improved memory
- Enhanced learning of new tasks
Using Stress to Your Advantage
If stress has its benefits, then how do you take advantage of them? How can you make stress work for you rather than against you?
Retrain Your Brain
As previously discussed, how you view stress can determine how it affects you. Retraining the brain to view stress as a helpful tool rather than a roadblock will take time as the latter has likely become deeply ingrained. While it will take some practice, it is possible to change your response when stress rears its head.
Replace the negative thoughts that typically arise at the first sign of stress with more positive ones, such as, I’m experiencing stress and welcome it fully. Then, think of how you could best use it to solve a problem or reach a goal. How can you make the stress work for you?
Tip: Don’t stress over trying to think of a way to best use stress! This strategy will get easier over time. If you’re unable to think of how to take advantage of whatever stressor you’re facing, simply accept that it’s there. Sit with it rather than flee from it.
Reframe Your Perspective
When you attach purpose to a difficult situation, it becomes easier to handle or, at the very least, motivates you to handle it. When you reframe stressors in order to add meaning to your life, you are giving your stress a positive purpose.
Perhaps its purpose is one of the above benefits discussed such as motivating behavior, building resilience, or boosting cognitive performance, or it could be something else entirely. Pairing stress with a purpose will allow you to broaden your perspective as to why it exists and the benefits it provides.
Sometimes you feel stressed and can easily identify the cause; other times you’re unsure where it stems from. Pinpointing the root cause of your stress puts you in a position to work with it rather than against it. When you feel the symptoms of stress, either physically or psychologically, but don’t know what’s brought it on, you may feel as though you aren’t in control of what’s happening. However, identifying its origins and approaching it within a more positive framework puts you back in the driver’s seat.
Stress is a part of everyday life, and as much as you might try to will it away, it will inevitably creep up again. By making stress your ally, you can learn to use it to your advantage and perhaps even learn something new in the process. So next time you’re feeling stressed, accept it as part of the journey and embrace it whole-heartedly. You might be surprised by the result.
… How much do we really know, are we aware of what we are thinking and doing? It’s my guess that the common answer is no, not much at all, if we are honest. Sure, we could say we did this or that for such and such a reason, but dig a little deeper and ask why that reason, and pretty quickly we’d be left with questions unanswered as to why we act the way we each do.
I would like to use this, somewhat unsettling thought, to help actually expand our awareness of why we are what we are. Unlike a ‘control freak’ the aim is not to try and tighten our grasp things but just to be aware and watch events in our daily life unfolds before us.
I guess I could call into these thoughts the idea of ‘Destiny Vs Free Will.’ How much of our lives is predetermined (genetics, upbringing..) and how much of life is subsequently down to our own free will, as such..? With greater experience comes a greater ability to fine tune and affect certain outcomes of our lives, which is very important and useful, yet life is an endless possibility of which we are more controlled by then we are able to consciously control. However, by increasing our ability to be aware that we part of a larger organism, we can maintain an interesting way of viewing our own decisions, actions and fate.
‘Your consciousness has become too attached, associated, with thinking, so whenever thinking stops you fall into a coma.. the conscious has merged into the unconscious. If the unconscious falls into the conscious and itself becomes conscious, you become enlightened.’
A review of the book by ‘A wayfarer’s notes’ can be found at this link;
Click here for link to about the documentary ‘Flight from Death,’ a film inspired by the work of Ernest Becker
‘Flight from Death’ uncovers death anxiety as a possible root cause of many of our behaviors on a psychological, spiritual, and cultural level.
Following the work of the late cultural anthropologist, Ernest Becker, and his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Denial of Death, this documentary explores the ongoing research of a group of social psychologists that may forever change the way we look at ourselves and the world. Over the last twenty-five years, this team of researchers has conducted over 300 laboratory studies, which substantiate Becker’s claim that death anxiety is a primary motivator of human behavior, specifically aggression and violence.
I think this movie is a nice way to relate this post too
The film was inspired by Emilio Estevez’s own son, Taylor. It started in 2003 as a project when Taylor, at the time 19 years old, and Sheen, whose The West Wing TV series was in hiatus, took part in the pilgrimage route. Taylor, who served as an associate producer on the film, had driven the length of the Camino with his grandfather. On the way he had met the woman who would become his wife; thus, the Camino held special meaning for him. After the trip a series of discussions started between Sheen and his son for a movie about the Camino de Santiago. Sheen originally suggested it be a low-budget documentary, but Estevez was not interested in such a small project, wanting instead a bigger experience.
Estevez also found inspiration in his vineyard, Casa Dumetz, where he wrote much of the dialogue for the film. Exploring the universal themes of loss, community and faith, he saw parallels with the characters of the film The Wizard of Oz. The script took six months to get a first draft.
The following is an interesting article I have pasted onto here;
VIENNA, AUSTRIA – For the first time, the exhibition “Eros & Thanatos – Drives, Images, Interpretations”, on view at the Sigmund Freud Museum and in the Historic Library of the Liechtenstein Museum, thematizes Freud’s theory of drives through exceptional works of fine art. Paintings, drawings, prints, enamels and sculptures by artists including Dürer, Rubens, Bellucci, Klimt and Schiele illustrate the interplay between the life and death drives. The exhibition’s team of curators and scientific advisors includes Monika Knofler, director of the Academy’s Graphic Collection, Johann Kräftner, director of the Liechtenstein Museum, Hannes Etzlstorfer, and Jeanne Wolff-Bernstein, a psychoanalyst based in San Francisco and former president of the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California. On exhibition 12 June though 13 October, 2009.
In his late work, Freud’s theory of drives centered on the opposition between the death drive (Thanatos) and the life drive (Eros). He sought to explain the diversity of psychical life through the interplay of and conflict between these two primal drives. “Eros & Thanatos” is the first joint effort of the two museums, and it represents a continuation of the Sigmund Freud Museum’s cooperation with the Graphic Collection of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.
Inge Scholz-Strasser, director of the Sigmund Freud Museum, elucidates: “In this exhibition we have brought together a controversial psychoanalytic theory with two internationally renowned and art-historically significant collections. It is the first cooperation with the nearby Liechtenstein Museum, which has provided key works on loan to the Sigmund Freud Museum.”
Johann Kräftner, director of the Liechtenstein Museum continues: “With this exhibition we would like to bring together the energies of the two museums, providing a new impulse in a district that has repeatedly been the birthplace of great cultural achievements in Vienna. Through the cooperation of two great antipodes, the home and workplace of Sigmund Freud in Berggasse and the Liechtenstein Palace, working together with the Graphic Collection of the Academy of Fine Arts, new realizations are opened by the integration of a transdisciplinary perspective into the consideration of themes of which one might have thought there was nothing new to know.”
The exhibition illustrates Freud’s many-sided theory of the life and death drives using paintings and graphics from antiquity, the Renaissance and the fin de siècle. During Freud’s life, artists such as Schiele, Klimt and Kokoschka devoted great attention to the theme of sexuality without ever having read Freud’s theories on the topic. Conversely, although Freud felt himself misunderstood by his adherents in the question of Eros and Thanatos, he also did not seek contact to the artists of his era, instead only taking heed of the resonances he found with his revolutionary theories in the writings of the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles.
In “Eros and Thanatos” the Sigmund Freud Museum and the Liechtenstein Museum use Freud’s texts in exploring the tension between life and death, between violence and passion in the work of artists of various epochs – from Dürer through Giordano to the Vienna Secession.
Eros and Thanatos in the Work of Sigmund Freud
In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) Freud introduced the life and death drives for the first time, whereby he declared that his earlier conception of a duality between the self-preservation drive and the sex drive was no longer sufficient. Although a number of psychoanalysts expressed doubt regarding his new theory, Freud remained an energetic proponent of this theory for the rest of his life.
According to his essay, the life drive – Eros – strives to lengthen life and makes connections to objects, while the death drive – Thanatos – yearns for a return to an earlier stage of life, a tension-free and almost lifeless state, and does not strive to enter into object relationships. In Freud’s last years, his theories of Eros and Thanatos found increasing resonance before the background of the violent and selfdestructive nature of political and social developments worldwide. In his 1932 letter to Albert Einstein, Freud linked Eros to love and Thanatos to hate, while at the same time warning: “(…) we must be chary of passing overhastily to the notions of good and evil. Each of these instincts is every whit as indispensable as its opposite, and all the phenomena of life derive from their activity.” The exhibition “Eros & Thanatos” shows how continually relevant the struggle between external storm and inner drive has remained for humanity over the centuries.