Review: Lost Connections

Sometimes someone writes a book that simultaneously highlights an obvious truth and reveals previously unknown issues. That’s the case with journalist Johann Hari’s Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions, a book that both exposes how many of the things we’ve been told about the causes and cures of depression are not scientifically accurate—and have even been disproven.

My entry to Lost Connections was actually listening to a podcast of Hari speaking on a panel at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. He was so passionate and so knowledgeable and entertaining a speaker, and his subject matter so startling and yet confirming of a nagging feeling I’d had for a while, that I bumped reading his book to the top of my list.

Combining an anthropological look at depression and conveying it in accessible feature article-style chapters, Hari steps the reader through his own decades-long experiences with depression and quest to figure out what what causing it and how on earth he could cure it. Like many others, he had found that despite being told that depression was caused by a dearth of serotonin in the brain that could be rectified by an antidepressant tablet, he was still depressed.

Employing his social research training, he started investigating the subject and met with experts. His book documents the startling but also common sense answers to what’s causing depression. For starters, it’s not a chemical imbalance in the brain or a lack of serotonin, as we’ve long been told. That was a hypothesis put forward by scientists way back that was quickly disproven, but that the pharmaceutical manufacturers picked up and continue to run with.

Frightening and depressing, much?

But while this rigorously researched book (seriously, I can’t quite get over how much peer-reviewed academic research Hari has found and how many experts he interviewed) did cause me moments of despair as it tipped everything I thought I knew about depression on its head, it ultimately comforted me.

Converting dense, dry scientific material into a gripping tale catering to a wide, non-scientific audience along the lines of authors Rutger Bregman and Malcolm Gladwell, Hari finally makes depression make sense. He also continues beyond identifying the issues, documenting the solutions.

Those solutions are perhaps the most interesting part of the book and range from a diverse community coming together to protest social housing evictions to prescribing socially and environmentally meaningful gardening.

I read Lost Connections in short snatches while waiting for meetings or queuing up for public transport, which allowed me to cogitate over its topics and meaning. Suffice to say, I’d recommend the book as both an absorbing read but also a thought-provoker or conversation starter. As Hari notes, with depression rates climbing, current depression treatments clearly aren’t working. Lost Connections does, as a minimum, prompt a rethink.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.