This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
At various times in my life I’ve been pretty seduced by conspiracy theories.
I was a big fan of the original “X-Files” and Mulder’s constant search for the truth that was “out there” – and always just eluding him.
Now that I’m somewhat more jaded – or realistic – I realise the truth is more likely to be driven by the pursuit of money than some grand conspiracy.
One could also be easily lead to believe that author Johann Hari – already well known for tipping the popular narrative about the “War on Drugs” on its head with his international best-seller “Chasing the Scream” – is nothing but a shill for the anti-medication, anti-psychiatry movement.
He’s even been accused of putting people’s lives at risk by telling them to stop taking their anti-depressants because they’re not working.
Of course, he has done no such thing.
Just like “Chasing the Scream”, Hari’s latest book – “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” – takes much of what professionals already know to be true about the topic in question, in this case the depression and anxiety epidemic sweeping the western world – New Zealand included – and makes it accessible to the general public.
The strength of his writing is in his ability to give voice to many of the world’s leading researchers, and some of the more unpopular views that struggle to make it into mainstream thinking and conversation.
He outlines in some detail how depression is not a “chemical disorder”, a disease of the brain or “genetic”; how the evidence of the efficacy of mainstream anti-depressants has been significantly over-sold; and how many aspects of popular culture, including the way we run our communities, our economies and our lives are increasingly responsible for the rise in rates of mental illness (what he calls “junk values”).
But it is in attacking so called “Big Pharma” that he puts himself most at risk. The questionable evidence for the more popular anti-depressants – Prozac, Aropax Citalopram etc. – is well known. But having this information spread by such a popular voice was always going to court active and aggressive push back.
If you’re concerned this all sounds like more bad news, the second half of the book sets out a range of alternative and common sense – if not somewhat idealistic – solutions, all told with the grace of a talented story teller: through the experiences of real people around the world.
Ultimately, what makes Hari’s writing so accessible is his ability to tell us the truth via his own journey of discovery. This book is a deeply personal tale of how he’s had to come to understand the roots of his own depression, wrestle with the false belief that there was just something broken in his brain and reconcile the fact the pills he was described were no longer working.
The moral of the story, as it is for all of us, is that the truth isn’t “out there”. The truth about our own struggles and our ability to find it is inside all of us – if we have the courage and the supportive connections to look for it.
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