We Are Eachothers Anti-Depressant

September 8, 2020

I cannot help but notice that anxiety and depression have reached epidemic proportions. I just saw today that the granddaughter of Robert F Kennedy died from a mental health issue. A great young pitcher from the California Angels named Tyler Skaggs died this season from mental health issues.

I have always tried to help our clients through the stages of grief as their case progresses, but it seems the problem has mushroomed out of control. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how much money you have, what color you are, or what religion you follow. Grief/Anxiety and Depression seem to transcend all socioeconomic lines. It is truly something we all have in common.

Because of our clients, I try to keep up on things that can help, and I’ve just finished reading a book by Johan Hari called “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” that could be a game-changer. I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

We have been taught that we have pain from anxiety and depression because our brains are broken; our pain is due to a decrease in serotonin levels in our brain, and if we take a pill to increase the levels, our problems will be fixed. This is NOT true.

We have pain because our brains are working correctly. The pain signals that something in our lives, not our brains, needs to be fixed.

If you are taking anti-depressants, please don’t think they are useless, and for god’s sake, please don’t stop taking them without consulting your doctor. Anti-depressants can make us feel better.

Depression is graded on something called the Hamilton Depression Scale. That scale has a maximum of 54 points. Studies have shown that pills will improve a person’s score on average by 2 points. Contrast this with a better sleep schedule, which will improve a person’s score by an average of 6 points.

I guess what I am saying is that pills can help how we feel but helping each other change how we live may be a far greater antidepressant than any pill we can take.

The book tells a story of a rice field worker in Cambodia who lost his leg when he stepped on a land mine leftover in the field. After receiving a prosthetic leg, the man cried every day he was back in the rice fields. The man was inconsolable.

The elders of his village convened and decided to provide the man with a cow so he could make his living by providing milk instead of picking rice. The work was just as difficult, but the man stopped crying and went back to the same happy man he was before losing his leg.

Do we really think that giving the man who lost his leg a pill and putting him back in the rice fields would have made him happy? Of course not. The man needed a life change, and with the help of his community, the cow was his anti-depressant.

The key to the success of the cow story was the help of the man’s community. His community didn’t look at the man’s problem as his own. They looked at the problem as ours.

Here in the United States, we have been taught that it all starts with you. You are responsible for yourself. That one man can make a difference and that we get to the top of the mountain alone. We need to heal ourselves. It’s your choice, your responsibility to keep grinding and get back to work.

I have my own problems and responsibilities. I don’t’ ask for help. I feel bad for the man who lost his leg, but he needs to figure out for himself how to be happy again. It’s his responsibility. His problem.

This thinking leaves me and the man who lost his leg isolated to deal with our own problems. I see isolation with our clients all the time. They lose a loved one, and people around them give condolences and then step away, isolating the widow or the children to live with the grief all by themselves. It’s their problem, not ours.

If you show this picture to people in the United States and ask them to describe what they see, they will tell you a man is giving a speech. The group is secondary. The individual is primary.

Don’t get me wrong, the individuality of our country is a strength in many ways, and there is a place for individual self-discovery in healing. We must love ourselves, and finding that love can require psychological help.

In addition to the biological and psychological pieces, there is also a social component to our anxiety and depression.

In this respect, our desire to turn inward has created social isolation, the likes of which have never been seen in human history. Social media’s irony is that it has left us more isolated and more alone than we ever have been before.

The pull of our culture is so strong that I kept thinking this is baloney as I read Mr. Hari’s book. We don’t need anyone else. If people want to make changes, they can just make the changes and alleviate their anxiety and depression. Then I read about a study done on this very subject.

A study was done to determine whether people can make a conscious choice to be happier and whether this will work. What they found is that outside the United States, this can and does work. Inside the United States and in Britain, it will not work.

Why? Because outside the United States, when people decide to be happier, they get involved with their community. That involvement fixes their social isolation, and the inner choices they make tend to stick.

Inside the United States, people decide to be happy, and they turn inward to find themselves and away from other people. They get to work on themselves. They go to the gym alone and wear headphones, or they get a personal trainer. They read books on self-help. They go to an individual therapist.

For a time, this works. The biological component and psychological component make us believe we are healing ourselves. Still, unless we fix the social isolation that also plays a role in our anxiety and depression, it’s bound to return. It’s usually worse because we beat ourselves up for having failed.

As people, we are tribal. We have been tribal for millions of years. We need human connection. We need each other. We need to know we are seen. We need to know we are part of something larger than ourselves.

We are each other’s antidepressant. Being with other people with similar interests and working on a common cause improves our social isolation and helps heal our anxiety and depression.

Hari tells a marvelous story of a medical clinic in England where a patient enters and has a choice to see a doctor or sign up for one of 100 groups focused on everything imaginable. In addition to medication, the doctors prescribe participation in one of the groups for anxiety and depression.

We need to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves, but we live in a culture that preaches nothing bigger than ourselves. To find happiness, we must do the opposite of what our culture tells us.

When we are anxious and depressed, we need to turn outward to each other instead of inward toward ourselves. We need a group of people with similar interests. We need to be outside in nature and not in our homes with our thoughts. We need to help other people and let other people help us. By helping someone else, we will help ourselves.

Lost Connections” does not make any new revelations that have not been with us the whole time, but for me, it was a welcome reminder that there is more to life than just me.

There is plenty of evidence that we are happier with each other than we are alone. The greatest aid for putting addiction into remission is Alcoholics Anonymous, and that group is founded on the principle of healing ourselves by healing each other. Weight Watchers is the most successful way of losing weight, and that program was created on the idea of group participation.

We must fight against the idea that it is all on our shoulders to heal ourselves. We must fight our way back to connecting, and when we do, we will be less anxious and less depressed.

By connecting, we can change our culture to see the picture as a group of people learning. That one idea shared can make a difference that no person gets to the top of the mountain without help. That accepting help is a strength and not a weakness, and if we keep grinding together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

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