This Could Be Why You’re Depressed Or Anxious: Johann Hari (Transcript)

Johann Hari at TED Talks

Following is the full transcript of journalist Johann Hari’s talk titled “This Could Be Why You’re Depressed Or Anxious” at TED Talk conference. In this talk, he shares fresh insights on the causes of depression and anxiety from experts around the world.

Johann Hari – TED Talk TRANSCRIPT

For a really long time, I had two mysteries that were hanging over me. I didn’t understand them and, to be honest, I was quite afraid to look into them.

The first mystery was, I’m 40 years old, and all throughout my lifetime, year after year, serious depression and anxiety have risen, in the United States, in Britain, and across the Western world.

And I wanted to understand why. Why is this happening to us? Why is it that with each year that passes, more and more of us are finding it harder to get through the day?

And I wanted to understand this because of a more personal mystery. When I was a teenager, I remember going to my doctor and explaining that I had this feeling, like pain was leaking out of me. I couldn’t control it, I didn’t understand why it was happening, I felt quite ashamed of it.

And my doctor told me a story that I now realize was well-intentioned, but quite oversimplified. Not totally wrong. My doctor said, “We know why people get like this. Some people just naturally get a chemical imbalance in their heads — you’re clearly one of them. All we need to do is give you some drugs, it will get your chemical balance back to normal.”

So I started taking a drug called Paxil or Seroxat, it’s the same thing with different names in different countries. And I felt much better, I got a real boost.

But not very long afterwards, this feeling of pain started to come back. So I was given higher and higher doses until, for 13 years, I was taking the maximum possible dose that you’re legally allowed to take.

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And for a lot of those 13 years, and pretty much all the time by the end, I was still in a lot of pain. And I started asking myself, “What’s going on here? Because you’re doing everything you’re told to do by the story that’s dominating the culture — why do you still feel like this?”

So to get to the bottom of these two mysteries, for a book that I’ve written I ended up going on a big journey all over the world, I traveled over 40,000 miles.

I wanted to sit with the leading experts in the world about what causes depression and anxiety and crucially, what solves them, and people who have come through depression and anxiety and out the other side in all sorts of ways.

And I learned a huge amount from the amazing people I got to know along the way. But I think at the heart of what I learned is, so far, we have scientific evidence for nine different causes of depression and anxiety. Two of them are indeed in our biology.

Your genes can make you more sensitive to these problems, though they don’t write your destiny. And there are real brain changes that can happen when you become depressed that can make it harder to get out.

But most of the factors that have been proven to cause depression and anxiety are not in our biology. They are factors in the way we live. And once you understand them, it opens up a very different set of solutions that should be offered to people alongside the option of chemical antidepressants.

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