A Response to Johann Hari’s Book – Lost Connections
As a psychotherapist, I welcome honest debates about mental health, as they can help reduce the stigma and isolation of many sufferers experience. Recently, a book has been published by controversial author Johann Hari, that has created a bit of a storm, in which he claims to dispel the myth of anti-depressants and provides us with the Nine Factors that lie at the root of anxiety and depression. Here is my two-cents worth:
Do anti-depressants work for some people?
Yes they do. And furthermore, they can be essential ‘life rafts’ for clients who simply cannot cope.
They are compatible with psychotherapy in as much that clients need to be thinking about and taking responsibility for choosing healthier ways of coping.
Are there ‘Nine Factors’ contributing to Anxiety and Depression?
This idea really concerns me. It is less about whether Hari’s ideas or suggestions are valid (some are), but rather seems to be reminiscent of a reductionist trend of identifying and listing the problems of the human condition, with a view to us being fixed if we address the list. The many causes of depression include biological, social, economic, genetic, epi-genetic, existential and more beyond. And they are all interconnected.
The Problem of Being Human
Since the dawn of time, man and womankind have pondered the purpose of life. Existential thought and theory has much to teach us on this matter and the many tomes published on the topic have never identified a specific number of causes.
Perhaps what we are ultimately left with is that anxiety and depression are part of the human condition. Whether this is a random fluke of evolution, or brought about by us being (as far as we know) the only species who must live life knowing we shall die – existentially an unbearable proposition – or a combination of the two, I do not know.
My view is that being a successful human being is about learning to come to terms with the past and to learn to tolerate our feelings and then navigate by them. If anti-depressants help us bear the unbearable for a while, they have a place and a role which can be lifesaving.
Mark Vahrmeyer is a UKCP-registered psychotherapist working in private practice in Hove and Lewes. He is existentially informed and has a background of working in palliative care.
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