Depression and the Secret to Happiness | Johann Hari

The biggest problem with telling people
the story I was told your depression is in your head it tells you that the
reason you’re depressed is you’re broken. Actually you’re very sane if you’re
depressed. It’s no sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society. Our
pain makes sense. If you’re depressed and anxious you’re not a machine with broken
parts, you’re human being with unmet needs. You need food, you need water, you
need clean air, you need warmth, if I took those things away from you you
would go haywire really quickly. We just have natural psychological needs. There are
things you need as a human being to feel good: you need to feel you belong, you need to feel
you have meaning and purpose in your life, you need to feel that people value
you and see you, you need to feel you have a secure future that you understand
and if you take those things away from people many of them will be really bad.
We’ve been encouraged to live in ways that don’t meet our human needs
that are actually quite sick. There destructive in all sorts of ways: they’re destructive for our psychology, they’re destructive to the planet’s ecology, they’re destructive
for huge numbers of people all over the world. Depression and anxiety are not
pathologies that are about biological breaks, right, there are biological
factors that can make it worse but that’s not the core what’s going on. They are
responses to your needs not being met. Pain signals evolved for a reason, they’re
telling you something’s going wrong and the fact that we have
this huge depression anxiety and addiction epidemic across the Western
world, something’s gone wrong, well what is it that’s going wrong and how
do we actually begin to fix it. The reason why I’m alive, you’re alive, everyone watching
this is alive, it’s because our ancestors were really good at one thing: they were
really good at banding together and cooperating. Often they were not bigger
or stronger than the kind of beasts they took down and ate what they were was
incredibly good at cooperating compared to other species. They banded together
into hunter-gatherer tribes and they worked together all the time. In the
circumstances were we evolved in the savannahs of Africa if you got separated
from your group and you were off on your own you have become depressed and
anxious for a really good reason, you were in terrible danger, you could be
eaten, if you got injured no one would be there to help you, you would probably die. Every
instinct that we evolved as human beings is to be part of tribes, of communities.
Bees need a hive humans need a tribe. We’ve been told this story that we
should think of ourselves not like that, not as this collaborative, cooperative species
but as individual economic rationalisers. The reality is that has produced a society
that is lonelier than any human society ever. We are the first human beings to ever try
to disband our tribes and live alone Well the High Priestesses of neoliberalism Margaret Thatcher told us there’s no such thing as society, there’s only individuals and their families. In
neoliberalism at the heart of it is about promoting the idea that you should
think of yourself as an individual who’s maximising their rational economic
interest and maybe that of your family. Actually that set of beliefs if it had
been followed throughout human history would have led to the extinction of our
species. Neoliberalism has told us this full story about human nature and we
have constructed a society based on that theory that therefore doesn’t meet
people’s human needs. Just like we know that neoliberalism created the 2008
economic crash, neoliberalism has also created the social crash that we are
currently living through. At the same time nearly liberalism creates a story
where there’s this ten billion dollar industry that tells us oh no your pain
is just because you’ve got some chemical problem in your brain and so neoliberalism
fucks us up and then tells us a bullshit story about why we’re fucked up
which they then get tell us as a reason to sell us even more things. You know I
had this really weird illustration of this Peter Thiel is the founder of
PayPal disgusting right-wing gazillionaire, who funded the Trump
campaign. He has a venture capital fund that were developing apps to deal with
depression anxiety and addiction, I was invited to go and speak at very much
capital fund. It was the most bizarre experience and if all you knew about
depression anxiety and addiction was this day-long conference you would think
that these were just problems inside people’s brains. The whole days spent
looking at brain scans the only outside factor they ever mention was a few
people mentioned in passing childhood trauma. And I was like you could describe
the plot of Romeo and Juliet using like Newtonian physics if you wanted to:
the atoms move in Romeo’s body this way and the atoms move in Juliet’s body
that way, it would all be true but you wouldn’t understand a fucking thing
about why Romeo does anything or why Juliet does anything. You’d be
misunderstanding and in a similar way if you spend your whole time looking what
happens in the brain without thinking: what’s happening in the person’s life that’s
changing their brain, you’re missing the point. The reason why this is so connected to neoliberalism is, if you think about the fact that it’s Peter Thiel who’s organising this conference to profit from it. Funding this idea, look, let’s go and
tell everyone that their distress is just something wrong with their brains. Their ideology
didn’t let them see a really basic truth in front of them. A lot of factors that are causing depression and anxiety
had already been rising before the internet came along. We were becoming much lonelier, we were
thinking more and more that life is about having money and status which
makes you depressed, we were disconnecting from the natural
world and then the Internet arrives and it looks a lot like the things we’ve lost.
It offers you Facebook friends in place of friends that are in the community. It offers you status updates in place of status. The average person
checks their phone every six-and-a-half minutes, 42 percent of people never
switch off their phone. Like all addictions it’s an attempt to fill a
hole. If that takes up too much of a space you’re gonna feel constantly
frustrated because it’s not meeting that deeper need: the deeper need we have is
the meaningful human contact, that’s face-to-face, that’s about a community of people
who see you and know you and value you. There’s a Bosnian writer Alexander Heyman who said: home is where people notice when you’re not
there. What you need is that sense of home, people will see you and notice when
you’re not there. what’s happening with social media is a symptom of the wider
disconnection that’s happened in the culture and then in turn it makes it worse. I was depressed for 13 years, it never occurred to me
that there were social causes of my depression. I was a Thatcherite to my own pain. If
you’re in a consumerist culture where you’re taught all the time the solution
to your problems is to go shopping, I don’t think it’s surprising that we will
look for cures to our depression that I like going shopping. That we’ll think the
solution must be to swallow something, buy something. The fact that we look for
a solution in pills is a symptom of the wrong direction we’ve gone in that’s
made us so depressed and anxious in the first place. I was taking antidepressants for 13 years and I
remained depressed for most of that time. One thing that was really interesting to me
was actually to realise how normal I was. Actually enormous numbers of people
taking these drugs become depressed again. The average effect of chemical antidepressants
is a 1.8 percent improvement on the Hamilton Scale, about a third of improving your sleep patterns over time. So that’s a real effect right. That’s
that’s above a placebo effect. I’m not against these drugs, loads of people I love
are on them and I don’t urge them to stop stop. but 1.8 points on the Hamilton Scale is not enough. I don’t want to take anything off the menu for
depressed and anxious people but we really need to expand the menu. And one
of the things I learned was that there are loads of different kinds of
antidepressant which are actually about changing the way we live and the way our
society works that reduced depression even more effectively than just drugs alone. I interviewed this South African
psychiatrist called Dr. Derek Summerfield. Derek was in Cambodia when they first introduced chemical antidepressants in Cambodia in the early part of this century. And the doctors
there, the Cambodian doctors, were like what are these drugs they had didn’t
know about them and so Derek explained. And they said to him “oh we don’t need
them, we’ve already got antidepressants.” And they were like “I will tell you a
story.” So there had been a guy in their community who one day had stood on a
landmine leftover from the American invasion of Southeast Asia
and he’d had his leg blown off. So they gave him an artificial limb and they
send him back into the fields. It’s apparently quite painful to work in
water when you’ve got an artificial limb and he was pretty traumatised because in
the place where he was blown up and he just became really depressed and they
said to Derek well “we gave him an antidepressant” and Derek was like “well,
what did you do?” And they said “well, we sat, we listened to him, we figured out
why he was depressed and so we figured if he became a dairy farmer he wouldn’t be in
such pain he wouldn’t be in this place we was traumatised and he might get
better.” So they bought him a cow. Once he had the cow within a few weeks
his depression went away. So they said to Derek: “so you see doctor, that cow was an antidepressant.” Now if you’ve been made to think about
depression the way we have, that it’s a biological fault in your brain, that
sounds like a joke but what those Cambodian doctors intuitively knew is
depression is overwhelmingly an understandable response to things going
wrong in life and what you need in that situation is for someone to sit with you
and help you get a solution. Now that guy couldn’t afford a cow on his own and
most of the people who were depressed and anxious in Britain can’t fix the
situation on their own, it needs bigger social changes but we can fix it together. One of things I learned researching my book ‘Lost
Connections’ is that there is all this interesting evidence the inequality is causing
depression and anxiety. One of the stories that really helped me to
understand it: Robert Sapolsky went to live with a troop of baboons when he was
in his early 20s. Baboons live in this really hierarchical system. Say there’s
like 13 men in the group, number one knows he’s above number two, number
two knows he’s about number three, all the way down. Where you are in the
hierarchy determines what you get to eat, who you get to have sex with, whether
you get to sit in the Sun or the shade. Robert Sapolsky wanted to discover: when
our baboon’s most stressed out. So what his job was for a while was
to dart them in the back to kind of tranquillise them and then he would
take blood test from them. When you are stressed you’re flooded with a hormone
called cortisol, that way he could figure out what was most stressful. And what he
discovered is there are two circumstances which baboons, who are our
very close relatives, are most stressed. One is when their status is threatened, so if you’re the top guy but you sense the other guy’s circling then you get
really stressed. The other is when your status is low and this to me is one of
the most interesting things. In Robert’s troop that he was following there was
this little guy at the bottom, who he called Job after the most unlucky person
in the Bible, who seemed to have like fits his hair would fall out and
everyone would just beat the shit out of him What Job would do he would keep his
body down and his head down, he would put his bum in the air, and this is what’s
called a submission gesture. Any baboon that’s pushed to the bottom
will do a submission gesture It’s their way of saying “all right, you fucking won,
I’m not fighting back, please leave me alone.” They keep their bodies low and their chest low. It’s funny when we talk about being
depressed we talk about feeling down. I realise when I felt depressed I do literally feel down. I want to keep my body low. So when you
feel your status is insecure and when you think your status is low you are significantly
more at risk of depression and anxiety. I think this is very deep in our biology and our nature. We’re not so different from our cousins and a
lot of as a show subordinate gestures just like that poor little baboon are going:
“please, you’ve beaten me, just leave me alone.” I noticed that a lot of people I know who are depressed, and suffer from a lot of anxiety,
it really focuses around their work. Gallup, the opinion poll company, did this detailed study
about how people feel about their work in our culture. What they found was 13% of people like their work. 63% of people are what they called:
“sleepwalking through their work” 24% of people fucking hate their work.
You think about that; 87% of people don’t like the thing they’re
doing most of their lives. I thought, could this be affecting
depression and anxiety? Seemed like it must but how? I discovered there was
this amazing Australian social scientist, who’d actually discovered the answer in the 1970s. Michael Marmot discovered the key factors
in work that cause depression. If you feel that you’re being controlled at work
your being micromanaged, you are considerably more likely to become depressed.
I think this is because human beings, have an innate need to feel that what we do
with our lives is meaningful. If you’re spending from 9am – 6pm
five days a week being controlled, that disrupts your ability to construct
purpose out of your life. In Baltimore I met this woman called Meredith. Meredith used to go to bed every Sunday night
just sick with anxiety she had an office job. it wasn’t the worst office job in the world
she just brought a lot of anxiety around it. She just couldn’t believe this was gonna be
the next 40 years of her life. One day with her husband Josh
they did this quite bold thing. Josh had worked in bike shops in
Baltimore since he was a kid, working in a bike shopping in the U.S. you’re controlled,
low-paid, insecure, you don’t have any rights at work. One day Josh and his friends who
worked in the shop were like… What does the boss actually do?
We fix all the bikes. So they decided to do this experiment they opened a
bike shop that worked on a different principle; It was a democratic cooperative they
decided we don’t want a boss, what we’re going to do is we’ll take
all the big decisions together, we’ll share out the good tasks and the shitty tasks,
we’ll share the profits and see how it works. Many talked about having been depressed and anxious
when they worked in this controlled environment, and how much of their anxiety and
depression had gone away. It’s important to say it’s not like they quit their jobs fixing
bikes and taught surfing in the Florida Keys, Or got to be a backing singer for Beyonce
they fixed bikes before they fix bikes now. The difference is they went from a controlling
and humiliating environment, to one where they had autonomy where they could
construct their own meaning and purpose in their lives. Josh said to me it’s an unbelievable propaganda victory
for the kind of capitalist system we live under, to tell people you’re free when you’re in fact
controlled most of your waking life. Imagine how fewer people would be depressed
if you knew that tomorrow morning, you were going into a workplace where
you elected your boss, and where you knew your boss was accountable to you
as well as the other way around. Imagine the effect that would have on
people’s mental health, it’s also better for businesses there was a
study at Cornell University that found; more democratic businesses grow four
times faster than top-down businesses. For the obvious reason: In a democratic
business people are more committed, and you’ve got more brains on every job, you haven’t
just got the guy at the top you’ve got everyone. When I was learning about how to deal
with depression and anxiety, I spoke to loads of scientists and people.
One of the things that most move me, was this place I kept going back to in Berlin
where something incredible happened. In the summer of 2011 a Turkish German
woman called Nuria Chenges, on a big anonymous council estate in Berlin
put a sign in the window of her flat. The sign said: I got the notice saying
I’m going to be evicted today, next Thursday I’m going to kill myself. This was a big council estate very
few people knew each other. People start walking past Nuria’s window,
so they knocked on her door. Everyone on this council estate was pissed off because
everyone’s rent had been rising, lots of people were being evicted They were like: maybe if we just blocked the road
for a day and wheel out Nuria, she sits there probably some journalists will turn up,
they’ll probably let her stay in her flat. So they’ve blocked the road they wheel Nuria out, Nuria’s
like: I’m going to kill myself anyway I’ve nothing to lose. Loads of people from this council estate
stand there and they protest for the day. It gets a bit of press coverage, at the end of the day the
police come and say you’ve had your fun take it down. They’re like: No! You haven’t said that Nuria can stay, actually we all want a guarantee that our rents
gonna be frozen because we can’t go on, being forced out of our neighbourhood. They were sure the minute they left the police would
take it down so a women there woman called Tanya, Was like well I’ve got a klaxon we’ll
all agree to man this barricade, if the police come to take it down just let off
the klaxon we’ll all come down and stop them. So you suddenly how will these shifts, people who’ve never met each other, never talked to
each other were actually quite frightened of each other, Start to talk to each other. For example Nuria who’s a conservative religious
Muslim wears the hijab, was paired with Tanya who wears tiny little miniskirts
even in the Berlin winters which is hardcore. At first it’s really awkward but as the
night’s went on they begin talking. Nuria and Tanya discovered something,
they had both come to Kotti as runaways, Nuria had come when she was 17 she’d grown up
in this very poor village in Turkey, She came with her 2 kids, working every job she possibly
could to send home for her husband so he could come. While there, she got the news that husband had died
so she was suddenly just kind of stranded in Germany, on her own in a place she barely spoke the language. Then Tanya told her that she had run away to kotti,
she had come when she was 15, she’d basically been thrown out, living in a squat
and ended up having a kid when she was very young. These people who had been so different had both been
stuck on their own with young kids lost in this place. Opposite the council estate there’s a
gay club called Südblock. Initially when they’d opened this gay club they said:
you guys can have all your meetings about this here. At first people were like: you’re not going to get these
very conservative Muslims to come and sit in a club, underneath posters for fisting nights
it’s not going to happen. Actually as one of the people told me,
everyone took these small steps, learning to speak to each other to talk to people
who might be different to you in some ways, but are actually very similar to you in most ways. So the protest goes on for months and months
one day it was about 6 months into the protest, a guy turns up called Thunkai. Thunkai is in his early 50s he’s got some cognitive
difficulties he has a slightly miss shaped pallet, so he finds it hard to speak sometimes. Thunkai offered to clean and do stuff for people
and people really liked him, he was very huggy and warm and one day
the police came to inspect everything. Thunkai doesn’t like when people argue
so he went to hug them, they thought he was attacking them so
arrested him and they took him. That’s when it was discovered that Thunkai has actually
been in a psychiatric institution for more than a decade. He’d escaped and had been living homeless
until he came to Kotti. They took him back to the psychiatric institution
and locked him away. The people at Kotti were just outraged, the psychiatrists were just completely
baffled that suddenly hundreds of people descend on the psychiatric place and they’re like:
what is this? it’s a load of Muslims in Hijabs, gay people and punks
demanding that they let him go. They said he belongs with us until eventually
they force the psychiatric institutions to release him How many people in our culture,
if someone carried us away, have hundreds of people who are going to descend on
those people to say no he belongs with us. There were many ups and downs in the
protests that happened at Kotti, there are many times when it seemed very low
and people were very disheartened, they wanted to give up but they ended
up doing this petition run. that got a rent freeze in Berlin that got
the largest number of signatures, of any referendum initiative in the history
of the city of Berlin. I remember when I spoke to Nuria one time
she said to me: I got to stay in my neighbourhood that’s great
but I gained so much more than, I was surrounded by all these amazing people
that I never knew. Another one of the Turkish women Nariman
said to me when I had grown up in Turkey, what I called home was my village and
then I came to live in the Western world. And I learned that what you call home is just your
four walls and your family if you’re lucky. Then she said this protest started and
all of this place became my home again. She realised that she had been homeless, all those years she’d been living in the Western world.
To some extent we are all homeless, because our sense of home is not big enough
to match the need we have for belonging. So many of the people at Kotti had been drugging
themselves with depression and anxiety, had been really low when they were
broken up and isolated. They didn’t need to be drugged
they needed to be together. So many of the problems that had seemed
insoluble when they were broken up; Like Thunkai in a psychiatric hospital or
Nuria who was literally about to kill herself, what she needed was people saying
to her we need you here. Tania, one of the protesters, put it to me so well,
when you’re all alone and you feel like this, you think it’s just you, but then you
come out of your corner fighting. And you realise everyone else feels like me too
and you stop being weak and you start being strong. To me that was the main thing I took from kotti. When we are together we can solve these problems
when we are following the neoliberal script; being broken up, isolated individuals we
just can’t solve these problems. We can take the edge off them with some drugs
but the core of the solution, is when people come together and say
this isn’t good enough, we deserve better and we demand better. Problems that seem insoluble begin to be dealt with.

About the author


  1. Very good. He seems to have had a bit of a chequered history himself and this stuff is in one way quite obvious when you think about it but still good on him for putting all this together and saying clearly what we all, surely, deep down know is true

  2. This is so fucking braindead, to not even admit that depression and anxiety are illnesses and blame everything on society and capitalism. I hope your video doesn't change a single mind, its so fucking wrong and could be downright harmful to people experiencing these issues.

  3. what you're describing is situational depression, depression based on circumstance or lack thereof. Many people have depression based on a lot of different things, not just circumstantial such as legitimate chemical depression. not to say what you're saying is untrue i just feel it still misses a LOT of what depression is. personally i have depression from abuse, being made to believe i had no worth, i was the source of problems i had no control over, etc etc etc- that lead to severe depression in my early adulthood and late teenage years, and then a friend of mine lived a perfectly nominal life yet also developed severe depression.
    i really believe that people strive to figure out what depression is, or what mental illnesses in general are because they're so personal and so hard to communicate to others that if we just give it a label and a descriptor we can fight it, which is extremely human obviously but the thing is theres no one source and theres no one cure- my depression was helped with medication to alleviate symptoms and then therapy to work things out while my friends was simply chemical based so he took medication to work things out and got therapy to help clean up symptoms.
    in my opinion the thing that needs to change in regards to how people look at depression and mental illness is that its not a bad thing, its just a sickness like cancer or even a broken bone, it should be taken seriously and not stigmatized. You wouldnt be worried people would disown you or make fun of you for saying you had cancer or diabetes right?

  4. Eventually human will become multi planet species and we will slowly but surely evolve and our current needs for social interaction or sense of belonging will change. We will be fine without any human interaction at all.

  5. The guy is a known fraud who edited other journalists Wikipedia articles to make baseless accusations that they were antisemites, and instead of apologizing he portrayed himself as a victim. Dishonest narcissist. Don't believe what he says.

  6. Thank you. Finally. Someone that understands. I'm tired of these attention seeking whores doing stupid crap and blaming it on depression.

  7. This is amazing, he has summed up a lot of the important points in his book here supplemented by an amazing visual narrative!

  8. I've discovered your channel and I really like the work that you're doing keep up the good work and i hope more and more people watch this and learn something! Thanks👍😉

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