FOR THE LOVE OF RELATIONSHIPS – Happy hour or Big Pharma

Johann Hari is the author of  ‘Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions’. In this book he tells a story of a Cambodian rice-farmer who got his leg blown off in the war. When the farmer was fitted with a prosthetic leg and rehabilitated, he returned to work in the same rice field where he lost his leg. He became depressed and cried all the time. He went to a doctor to seek help for his depression. The doctors and other medical personnel listened to him. Instead of giving him antidepressants, they bought him a cow, taught him how to become a dairy farmer, and supported him and his family.  It took a while, but this man was no longer depressed and anxious when he went to work.

This sounds like a simplistic story, but it has amazing insight and meaning. In Cambodia there was no social norming of dispensing anti-depressants or drinking cocktails during happy hour. Their medical community went deeper to look for the root cause of the depression and anxiety the rice-farmer was experiencing. 

In the United States, we have serious depression and mental health problems, and we have an insatiable appetite to get away, destress or escape through alcohol and/or drugs.  Certainly, there are chemical imbalances in the brain and other biological reasons that need to be addressed. However, these are not the only issues we need to combat if we are to deal effectively with the crisis of addiction and mental health. 

According to Hari, causality is not just the biological imbalances that are at issue, there are other factors outlined in the way we live. Studies outline that when surveyed, 39% of Americans report they are lonely. Other data highlights that many feel they have no control over their job or even their life. Still others outline their lives are devoid of meaning and purpose and many depressed people report they rarely get out, play, exercise, eat well, or enjoy nature.

Belonging, life purpose, significance, hope for a positive future, and being valued by others are deep psychological needs. The World Health Organization has been telling us for years that we are not weak or broken if we are depressed or anxious, but rather we are humans with profound unmet needs. Along with biological imbalances, we have severe imbalances in the way we live. Our ancestors banded together to conquer the West, discover new frontiers, and build communities together. Humans flourished when we lived in tribes and had a purpose that was bigger than ourselves.  Now the social mantra is “Be yourself”, “Be who you are” “Rugged individualism” when the healthier message is, “Be us”, “I am on your team.” “I have your back”, “We are stronger together.”

Current culture is a machine that is designed to neglect what is important in life. Money, fame, power, and status is not what life is about. This is the junk food of the soul. Depression is not just biological, it is also a signal that we might need our tribe to listen to our heart and perhaps not medicate us with antidepressants, drugs, or alcohol but, rather, maybe, buy us a cow.