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The Loneliness Epidemic

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How has the most connected society in historyalso become the loneliest?It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come.In just a matter of years, we’ve gone from phone calls to text messages to video chat.In an instant we can ring up a family member across the worldand feel more connected with them given the distance then we could haveat any other point in history.This was science fiction in the 20th century.It’s during that same period of innovation that brought us one-click shopping: anything we could need to be delivered to our door the same day.And so we bought, and stored, and used, and replaced generation living better than Louis the fourteenth, yet finding ourselves more secluded than ever.Why do people, even after they have their basic needs met with all the tools we have available, why are we not only unhappy but largely depressed?Author and journalist Johann Hari set out across the world to speak with leading experts on depression, anxiety, and loneliness discover both how we’ve gotten to this place and more importantly how do we as individuals in society start to turn the tide?This is my 20-minute interview with Johann about what he learned from that research.All right, so why don’t we start out with a little bit of an intro about yourself and about your work.I really- I write my book “Lost Connections” because there were the- these two mysteries that were really hanging over me for yearsLook, I was quite afraid to look into them in some waysThe first mystery is I’m 40 years old and every year that I’ve been aliveDepression and anxiety have increased here in the United States, in Britain, and across the Western worldRight and I kept asking myselfWhy?Why is this happening? Why are so many more of us each year that passes finding it hard to get through the day right andI guess I wanted to understand that from because I’m a more personal mysteryWhen I was a teenagerRemember going to my doctor and explaining that I had this feeling like a pain was leaking out of me outSo I put it at the timeand I feltVery ashamed of itI feltConfused by itI didn’t understand why it was happeningAnd my doctor told me a story that, and now realized were speaking to the leading scientists in the world on this was oversimplifiedRight. My doctor said we know why people feel like this. It’s just cuz of a problem in your brainThere’s a chemical called serotonin that makes people feel goodSome people are naturally lacking it. You’re clearly one of them. All we need to do is give you some drugsYou’re gonna feel betterso I started taking a chemical anti-depressant called Paxil and I felt significantly better for a few months andThen this feeling of pain came back. So I’m back doctor said wanna get high enough dose. I was gonna hide dose againI felt better again. The feeling of pain came back and I was really in this cycle of taking higher and higher dosesuntil for thirteen yearsI was taking the maximum dose you’re allowed to take at the end of which I was still really depressedAnd I was surrounded by people who are becoming more and more depressedSo I just forced myself really to start looking into this. So I ended up going on this big journey for the bookI travelled over 40,000 milesI wanted to meet the leading experts in the world about what causes depression and anxietyAnd what solves them most importantly so I’m at you knowNot just leading experts, but just a crazy mixture of people with different perspectives from an Amish village in IndianaCuz the Amish have very low levels of depression to a city in Brazil that bannedAdvertising to see if that would make people feel better to a lab in Baltimore than where they were giving peoplePsychedelics to see if that would help and I learned a huge number of things but the core of what I learnedIs that there’s scientific evidence for nine different causes of depression and anxietyTwo of them are in fact biological. My doctor wasn’t wrong andYour genes can make you more vulnerable to these problemsjust like some people find it easier to put on weight than others andThere are real changes in your brain that begin when you become depressed that can make it harder to get outbut most of the factors that cause depression or anxiety are not in our biology. Most of the factors for which there are scientific evidence are factors in the way we’re living and what I learned in the process of writing the book and speaking to so many scientists is once you understand the causes of depression or anxiety in this more complex way opens up a much broader range of possible solutions that I saw being pinned just all over the world and these are solutions that we need to be explaining to people and offering to them alongside not instead of but as an option alongside chemical antidepressants why is society at large?Reacting in this way. What do you think are some of the influences on people’s well-being?That’s leading to the higher and higher rates and depression and anxietyI’ll give you an example of one of the nine causes that arrived at in lost connections. We are below Lea’s societyThere’s ever been there’s a study that asks American show many close friends do you have you could turn to in a crisis and when they started doing this year agoThe most common answer was five today the most common answer, not the average but the most common answer is none half of all AmericansAsked how many people know you well say nobody right? I spent a lot of time talking to an amazing man called professorJohn Cacioppo is that it was the leading expert in the world on loneliness. He was at the University of ChicagoAnd he explained to meWhy are we alive you and me and everyone watching this? Why do we exist?One key reason is that our ancestors on the savannah’s of Africa were really good at one thingThey weren’t bigger than the animals they took down. They weren’t faster than the animals they took downBut they were much better at banding together into groups and cooperating just like bees evolved to live in a hiveHumans evolved to live in a tribe and if you think about the circumstances where we evolved if you were cut off from the tribeYou were depressed and anxious for really good reasons. You were ann’t terrible danger you were about to die those are still the impulses we have we are the first humans ever the long 2 million year history of our species to try to disband our tribes and is making us feel awfulSo a key thing for me was not just to understand these problems. But ok. How do we solve those problems?Right and one of the heroes of my book Lost Connections is an amazing man called. DrSam ever Hampton who pioneered a whole different approach based on this understandingso Sam was a general practitioner in East London poor part of East London where I live for a long time andSam was really uncomfortable because he had loads of patients coming to him with terrible depression and anxietyAnd like me he thinks there’s some role for chemical antidepressantsBut he could also see most of the people he was giving them to did become depressed againAnd he could see that they were depressed and anxious for perfectly understandable reasonsRight like to give one of the examples I took about in the book lonelinessSo he decided to pioneer a different approach one day a woman came to see him called Lisa CunninghamHe’d been shut away in our home with dreadful depression and anxiety for seven years and Sam said to Lisa. Don’t worryI’ll carry on giving you these drugs. I’m also gonna suggest something else. There was an area behind the doctors the suite of doctors officesThere was no known as dog share alley which gives you sense of what it was like just kind of scrublandSam said to Lisa what I’d like you to come and do is turn out a few times a weekI’m gonna come to you cuz I’ve been pretty anxiousWe’re gonna meet with a group of other depressed and anxious people. And we’re gonnafind something to do together as a group, right the first time the group met Lisa was literally physically sick with anxietyBut the group starts talking they’re like, what can we do?These are inner-city East London peopleThey don’t know anything about gardening they decided they’re going to teach themselves gardening right gonna turn dogshit alley into a beautiful gardenSo they started watching YouTube. They start to read booksThey start to get their fingers in the soil. They start to learn the rhythms of the seasonsThere’s a lot of evidence that exposure to the natural world is a really powerfulAntidepressant start to do something even more important. They started to form a tribethey started to form a group they started to care about each other and you know, ifIf one person didn’t turn up, they’d go and look for them. They’d see if they were okayThey did what human beings do when they’re part of tribes. They started to solve each other’s problemsThe way Lisa put it to me as the garden began to bloom. We began to bloomThere was a study in Norway of a very similar program found. It was more than twice as effective as chemical antidepressants. IThink for an obvious reason, right?It was dealing with some of the reasons why they felt so bad in the first place and this is something I saw all overThe world from Sydney to São Paulo to San Francisco the most effective strategies for dealing with depression and anxietyAre the ones that deal with the reasons why we’re in such distress in the first place?You said that we’re living in the loneliest society. There’s ever beenhowCan that possibly be with all of these tools at our fingertips, right we have social mediaWe have the ability to connect and interact with anybody in an instantI can FaceTime my mom in a second. And if she picks up then we can I can see her face to facehas social mediaPlayed some part in the fact that we are lonelyThis is a complex question and with a complex answerSo the glib answer is to go, yeah social media did this to us. Is this too simplistic?To understand this I went to the first-ever internet rehab center in the world. It’s in just outside Spokane in Washington StateIt’s called restart, Washington. I remember I’ve arrived there. It’s a clearing in the woodsI get out. I got out of the car and absolutely instinctively looked at my phone to check my email and felt really pissed off. I couldn’t see it go. There was no receptionI was like, oh wait you came to the right place?Right and I spent a fair bit of time there and it’s totally fascinatingThey get a whole range of people at restart Washington, but they disproportionately getYoung men who become obsessed with these multiplayer role-playing games like World of Warcraft or not at the time that I was therebut now fortnight right andI’m about Dr. Hillary cash the amazing woman who runs this CenterSent me that you’ve got to ask yourselfWhat are these young men getting out of these games? Because they’re getting something right? I think what they’re getting a kind of the hollow version of the things they used to get from the society but they no longer get they get a sense of a tribe they get a sense of status and they can gain in status they get a sense. They’re good at something they get a sense. They’re moving aroundYoung people barely leave their homes. Now. It’s incredible the figures for how rarely children play outdoors but what they’re getting is, I started to think that the relationship between say these games or for media and social life is like the relationship between porn and sex, right?I’m not against porn don’t meet a certain basic edge but if your entire sex life consisted of looking at porn you’d be going around pissed off and irritated the whole timeBecause we didn’t evolve to masturbate over screens evolved to have sex right that wouldn’t meet your deeper needs in the same wayI’m obviously not against the internet would be ridiculous, right?But we didn’t evolve to talk through screens, right didn’t evolve to look at each other and interact through with our friends through screens you and I was speaking even via Skype now I wouldn’t feel you were seeing me and you wouldn’t feel you were the other way around the way that we feel that we are seeing and hearing each other now, right?human beings have a need to be seen and the leading expert on loneliness in the world professor John Cacioppo said gave me good little rule of thumb. He saidIf social media is a way station for meeting people offline or staying in touch with them that you’ll see offlineIt’s a good thing if it’s the last stop on the line generally something’s gone wrongBut he’s I think we have to think about as wellthe moment in human history when social media arrivesRight a lot of the causes of depression and anxiety that I write about in my book loss connectionsWere already supercharged by then by the late 90s the early 2000s loneliness have gone upValues have gone up a whole range of thingsAnd what happens is the internet arrives and it looks a lot like the things we’ve lostYou’ve lost friends. Here’s a load of Facebook friends. You’ve lost statusMake some status updates, right but it’s not the thing. We’ve lost. It’s a kind ofParody of the thing we’ve lost and what we need to do in very practical ways is the restore thing we’ve lost it seems like today. We have a lot of distractionsThat could potentially pull us away from that connectionIt seems like a lot of people are driven through consumerism and materialismandMany of us are safer and have more than ever have before the size of homes has increased steadilysince the1930s and 40sis there any correlation betweenmaterial wealth andHappiness, one of the things I found most challenging in the research for the book because I could see how much it played out inmy own lifeWas some research by an amazing man called Professor Tim CasaSo everyone knows junk food has taken over our diets and made us physically sick right as I can tell from my chinsI’m not immune to this myselfBut it’s equally strong evidence that a kind of junk of values have taken over our minds and made us mentally sickProfessor Kass showed. So for thousands of years, philosophers have said, you know if you think life is about money and status and shoving off. You’re gonna feel like shit, right?It’s not an exact quote from Confucius. But that is the gist of what he said, right?But no one scientifically investigated this until professor KassarAnd he showed a few I think really important thingsFirstly he showed the more you think life is about money and status and shoving offThe more likely you are to become depressed and anxious by a really quite significant amountI think this is because we’re going a little bit beyond professor kasih here, but I think this is becauseEveryone knows they have natural physical needs right? You need food. You need water. You need shelter. You need clean airIf I took those things away from you. You’ll be real trouble real fast, and there is equally strong evidence that all human beings have natural psychological means you need to feel you belong you need to feel your life has meaning and purpose. You need to feel that peopleSee you and value you beautifully. You’ve got a future that makes sense and our culture is good at lots of thingsI’m glad to be alive today but we’ve been getting less and less good and meeting these deep underlying psychological needs if you think partly because there are many factors going on but partly because if you think life is about money and displaying that money that’s gonna divert you from the things you actually do need to have a meaningful and satisfying life but professor Cass also said something else. So you showed the more you follow these junk valuesThe more likely while to become depressed and anxiousHe also showed as a society as a culture. We have become much more driven by these junk bodiesIt’s a cliche to say to your viewersYou won’t lie on your deathbed and think about what the likes you’ve got on Instagram and all the shoes you bought right?You’ll think about moments of love and meaning and connection in your lives. But as Professor Casa puts it we live in a machineThat’s designed to get us to neglect what is important about life right more eighteen-month-old children know what the McDonald’s M means they know their own last name? we’re immersed in a machinery that tells us how to do this professor Gossard had really interesting research about how weHow we undo some of that and some of it was really simplehe got a group of people to me once every couple of weeks for four months and just talk aboutfirstlyconsumer objects, they thought they had to havethings like Nike sneakersOnce they talked out loudhow do you think your life will be different when you’ve got them didn’t take long for people to start seeing maybe this isBullshit that’s been implanted in my head by advertising but then there were important bit was they’ve got people to talk about wellWhat are momentsThat’s not a moment that’s gonna make you feel satisfiedWhat are moment’s you have actually felt your life was meaningful satisfying, but we’ll talk about different things to some peopleIt was playing music some people it was swimming some people it was writing whatever it was and and they started saying wellHow could you build more of that into your life seeking more of that and doing more of that and less of?seeking this kind of junk value stuff andJust that process of meeting every couple of weeks and checking in with each other and explaining how they try to do itLed to a measurable. They did a good scientific study at this immeasurable shift in people’s values to become less materialistic, which we know relates to less depression and anxiety. Now of course is the case thatAnd a guy professor richard Laird has done research on this if you don’t have a baseline of material goodsrightIf you are in poverty that makes you then you are going to be unhappyBut once you’ve actually reached a fairly low level of income that you’re not actually wanting the basic thingsadditional money makes, you know happier and actuallyConstantly seeking it leads to a corruption of values that makes significantly more unhappyWe talked a little bit before we sat down here about Marie Kondo and minimalism and this movement of people rejectingconsumerism and materialismto live with less stuff to purchase less things toFocus less on status in their livesDo you thinkI’m curiousJust what your your thoughts on this this movement towards less is and if you think in some way it will help peopleFigure out their values again and reset these junk values that we’ve created for ourselvesI haven’t looked into any huge amount of detail, butWe live in a hurricane of messagesTelling usThe answer to our pain and distress lies in shopping, right? This is a really interesting study that was done in1978really simple you get a bunch of five-year-olds you divide them into two groups the first group is shown two advertisements whatever the equivalent to like Dora the Explorer or the Teletubbies was in 1978. I forget what it wasSecond group is shown no advertisements then all the kids are toldHey kids got a choice nowYou can either play with a nice boy who doesn’t have the toy in the embarrassment or you can play with a nasty boyWho’s got the toy? The kids had seen just two advertisementsoverwhelmingly chose the nasty boy who had the toy and the kids who haven’t seen their advertisements overwhelmingly chose the nice boy who didn’t have the toy right? So just two ads just twoWe’re enough to prime those kids to choose an inanimate lump of plastic over the possibility of fun and connection, right?Every single person watching your video has seen more than two ads today right more than two advertising messages. So we’re living in thishurricane of messagesBombarding us with a very particular beforeAdvertising sells any specific product. It sells the idea that the solution lies inPurchasing things right? I mean imagineAdvertising is the ultimate frenemy right? It’s saying babe I love you. I think you’re great. But if you didn’t stinkI mean, I’m just saying if you weren’t so hairy, I’m just saying, right. It’s the ultimateyeah, it’sIt worked. The premise of is it has to make you dissatisfied right?I mean in the advertised you look at what advertising people say internally to each otherthey’re very candid about this they call it invented once right because actuallyThe things that we need are relatively limitedThe whole machinery has to be built around making us feel inadequate and then making us by the solution right? So IthinkMovements that say, you know, I’m just gonna purge this shit right backThat is not the answer right? Of course. There are nice things. We all like to have nice things that have some nice things but the idea that this ceaselessTreadmill is buying and displaying useless bullshitThe idea that we might want to step off that treadmill and maybe I’ve got a limited amount of time in which to be alive. Maybe I’ll spend my time on things that are more meaningful seems to me to be areally positive step thanks for watching this video if you want to get the full 40-minute interview with Johan you can get it at patreon.com slash Matt de BellaThanks for watching and we’ll see you next time

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