Johann Hari: Lost Connections


This week on MIA Radio, we interview journalist and author Johann Hari. Johann is one of our foremost social science thinkers and writers. In addition to writing regularly for the New York Times and Independent newspapers, he has written extensively on social science and human rights issues. His 2015 book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, challenges what we believe about addiction, and his TED talk on our response to addiction has been viewed over 20 million times.

Johann was twice named ‘National Newspaper Journalist of the Year’ by Amnesty International. And he has been named ‘Cultural Commentator of the Year’ and ‘Environmental Commentator of the Year’ at the Comment Awards.

In this interview, we talk about Johann’s latest book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions, which has been called a ‘game changer’ and received plaudits for its explanation of the social and cultural issues leading to depression and anxiety.

In the episode we discuss:

  • How Johann became interested in journalism and began writing about social justice and human rights issues.
  • What led to wanting to write a book that was partly based on his own experiences with depression and anxiety, but also that provided the evidence for social and cultural issues that may underlie the dramatic increase in the number of people seeking support for emotional distress.
  • The facts behind the chemical imbalance theory of mental illness.
  • The role of the bio-psycho-social model of mental distress and why we may have focussed predominantly on biological interventions.
  • Social prescribing as a means to enable connection between people who struggle with depression and anxiety.
  • The Hamilton Depression scale and how it shows us that the effect of antidepressant drugs is small when compared to the improvements that can be achieved without drug therapy.
  • How Johann would like to widen the definition of what may be considered an ‘antidepressant’.
  • How disempowerment often lies at the heart of poor health.
  • How stigma relates to our perceptions of an individual who is labelled mentally ill and how it changes if we think someone has a biological problem.
  • Johann’s experiences in the Berlin district of Kotti.
  • That people can hear audio of the many of the interviews held for the book at

Relevant links:

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions

Johann Hari talk at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA)

Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs

TED Talk, Everything you think you know about addition is wrong

To get in touch with us email: [email protected]

© Mad in America 2018


  1. He is just selling a book for more round the world trips. There is nothing he is saying that we do not know already and we know far more to boot. We have had enough of this.

    What we are dealing with is fraud and corruption and the criminals need to be called out. Evidence put forward in the form of pharmacogenetics tests; corruption of financial kick backs and put before a court… the criminals who have destroyed thousands of peoples live, sentenced.

    Paula J Caplan on Allan Frances:

    David J Rothman report 2010

    Frances greased up with 500k to help pump Risperidone into the public including children by force.

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    • Streetphotobeing – I am reading Lost Connections now – it is a genuinely powerful and compelling read, as is his previous book Chasing the Scream. Johann is an extremely talented writer and communicator who has an audience of millions around the world. This makes him a threat to psych/pharma in a way that not many have managed to date. Have you noticed how he is being roundly trashed in the liberal media? Led by UK Psychiatry, the “experts” are falling over each other to discredit him, and this message is filtering down to the masses via Twiiter and blogs. Now, by and large, Psychiatry’s first line strategy is to ignore/refuse to be drawn – only a real threat is met with an offensive like this – they are running scared. Their tactics will backfire – there is nothing like controversy to promote a book. More power to Johann Hari and Lost Connections!

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      • Dear Auntie Psychiatry,

        Hello. I am genuinely confused as to how this writer could possibly be a threat to psychiatry when by insisting that every human experience under the sun is or causes a mental illness (no quotes) is not simply setting up million more kids to be handed over to them?

        He’s pro shrink and pro “crazy” labels. How is that not a shrinks dream voice? What I heard was a mainstream propagandist regurgitating medical model mentality that does nothing but widen the psychiatric net.

        Did I miss something here, because all I got from listening to the interview was how many “LOST CONNECTIONS”, and how much disconnect there is between:
        1) the writer and the facts, (who speaks “as if” what he was told by the shrinks he interviewed and believes to be true, is true) and that none of it is in question or dis-proven when in fact it all is.
        2) In failing to know or consider that an anti and critical psych movement even exists and thus he seems to have failed to investigate why it does and what the issues are.
        3) In failing to consider or grasp the cost to the children he is declaring “mentally ill” of being lead into the system under false pretenses of having a diseased brain there is a massive disconnect between the writer and the very real human children whose lives will be impacted. I truly question his alliances and who he is supporting.
        4) The disconnect between claiming to be anti-drug and knowing there is little to no access to the alternatives he supports and as such, he again failed to consider, how many children will end up drugged because he and countless others are currently screaming that anything and all things that can happen in life cause and are in fact “mental illness’s”.

        I don’t support anyone anywhere, labeling poor or any other child as “mentally ill” for any reason, ever.

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        • Judi – Sorry, I’ve only just seen this comment. I admit to having a soft spot for Johann Hari. I’ve followed his career since the early 2000s when he was very young, and a rapidly rising star in the UK. At that time he wrote compelling polemics for the Independent newspapaer, including furious bullshit in defence of SSRIs (documented here…

          Even at the time, I knew he was protesting too much and I waited for the about-turn. It started to happen in 2006 when the tone of his rhetoric about psych-drugs began to change. Then came his spectacular fall from grace, and in one massive self-inflicted blow, he was gone. I never expected him to get back up again, but he did a few years later with “Chasing the Scream.” As I read this book, I remembered why I’d followed his writing all those years ago. He really does have something.

          When I heard about “Lost Connections” I was nervous to read it – I thought Hari might make too many concessions to mainstream psychiatry and that they would endorse his book and co-opt him as one of their puppets. You say:

          “He’s pro shrink and pro “crazy” labels. How is that not a shrinks dream voice?”

          And yet UK psychiatrists, far from endorsing him, immediately launched a shameful and cruel campaign to discredit him and feed him to the trolls. Here’s Alex Langford, well and truly stirring the sh*t…

          “Marketing your paperback as a solution for suicide due to childhood abuse? I will tell you where you can stick it.”

          Professor Sir Simon Wessely was a little more circumspect, but still managed to stick the boot in…

          Then the eminent professor Carmine Pariante with a full length piece for the Independent…

          “As a psychiatrist, I know that Johann Hari is wrong to cast doubt on antidepressants”

          All this and more, circulating amongst UK Psychiatry’s elite opinion leaders on Twitter. This is particularly sticky mud thrown by “experts.” The trolls soon piled in…

          “Why The Rehabilitation Of Plagiarist Johann Hari Is Irresponsible & Dangerous”

          I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that!

          Hari has come a long way. It’s true that he still has some way to go, particulaly in recognising and investigating the antipsychiatry movement, but you have to read the book to fully understand his message – and BTW, I’m not even suggesting you buy a copy, you could borrow it from the library. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

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  2. james—-thank you… thank you…thank you….again you have chosen a spectacular person and book…I listened to the whole podcast…and I am going to get the book…there is so much anger everywhere and unhappiness….HARI offers some real solutions for us without violence..

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  3. SOCIAL PRESCRIBING: or the “everything under the sun theory”.
    He throws into the mix, the genetic myths, the specious “brain changes” that everything under the sun has been accused of causing (including dehydration, lack of vitamin B and lack of sleep) and now loneliness, is a “mental illness” too. Seriously, just label EVERYONE “mentally ill” and get it over with.
    NO ONE- NO ONE is safe from this shit.

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  4. I enjoyed listening to this. I won’t be buying the book because I don’t need to be told what I already know. And much of what he’s written and talks about gets hammered home here every day of the week, in one way or another.

    What I did find interesting was his idea that we need to expand our concepts of home, beyond the walls of our living spaces, and connect with the people and places around us. In a kind of re-tribalising way. Which I thought was a very pretty idea, until I expanded my mind out, and imagined drawing in the many scoundrels and louts that live around me, who I would never wish to associate with, or share spaces with, any day of the week. I doubt they’d want to associate with me, either. So no love lost.

    However, what really struck me was how stupid people have become. Stupid in the sense of lacking common sense for things like spending time in nature, finding value in helping others rather than fixating on themselves, and the value of social groups, particularly the value of sharing resources and talents in communal ways. It’s a real shame that people are astonished by these ideas. A real shame.

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  5. One other point, I almost forgot to add.

    Yet again the insistence that spending time alone, self-isolating, choosing to avoid others, was always, without exception, an unhealthy choice that would lead to depression.

    When in fact there are many people — with all kinds of colourful and exotic labels — that find socialising to be fraught, unpleasant, and unnecessary, a lot of the time. Sometimes all of the time for some people.

    It is true that some people are hurt very deeply by spending protracted periods alone. I know people who start to become maudlin within minutes of entering solitude. But such neurosis shouldn’t be normalised.

    It is possible to spend time alone and not be damaged by it. Or depressed by it.

    Not everyone needs constant feedback and reassurance from others, including those that self-identify as depressed. It would be just as damaging for some people to be given a “social prescription” and compelled to mix it up with other people.

    The reason why most people feel deeply unhappy is because other people are often deeply unsatisfying. The best remedy for that is to develop a sense of humour. Even if it’s just you laughing in a group of straight-faced stalwarts. It takes the edge off.

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  6. It is very late here in the UK, and so I have stopped this VERY interesting interview (from the video) just short of the last 10 mins. Some of the comments I have seen here seem to suggest they have ‘heard it all before’…? Well I have been looking into this for quite a few years, and I find him saying some extraordinarily deep important things and in a very flowing articulate way.
    WHY is it people, even those passionate about this, seem to think that there cannot be an ONGOING observation. get me?? For when those that try and impose toxic myths on us, what do they do? Their propaganda is relentless, and repetitive. Just think of adverts! YET when someone as articulate as this writes and talks. some react with the ‘it’s all been said’. Well GOOD!! –let us say it and say it and freakin say it again and again and again in the spirit of helping to sink this vitally important message into those hypnotized (including ourselves, who are constantly being ‘worked on’) by all the toxic myths!

    And talking of ‘lost connections’, I hope to also add some insights I have about the mythological aspects of what this means which I personally see as really important to understand.

    I have learnt so much from listening to one hour of his interview and wish to share it as much as possible tomorrow!

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    • I have completed listening to the whole interview now. I wish I had noted down various points he addressed that I would have given feedback on, but one crucial one I recall is when he said how the medical establishment mindset, and people blindly following its authority, understand eg ‘indigestion’.

      That when suffering indigestion many will want to take drugs to get rid of it rather than understanding WHY they are having indigestion in the first place. This goes right through most of what is given us as ‘medicine’, and this of course is the pattern that bleeds into the psychiatric use of drugs. ‘Depression’? here take come ‘anti-depressants’! etc etc etc. This is the KEY to revealing the mechanistic mindset behind all of this.

      We are not machines/robots, though the overall state propaganda has tried to impose this self image on us and still does. We are rather deep creative mysterious beings, living in a deep creative mysterious nature and universe, whose ‘extreme states’ of experience both spontaneous, and inspired with other forms of various inspirational activities including psychedelic experience, may take on mythical dimensions.

      John Weir Perry, founder of the sanctuary DIABASIS, goes into this in his books and talks:

      “Schizophrenia is a condition in which the dream takes the place of reality.” This means that the
      unconscious overwhelms the ego consciousness, overwhelms the field of
      awareness with contents from the deepest unconscious, which take mythic,
      symbolic form. And the emotions, unless they’re hidden, are quite mythic too. ”

      Where I radically differ from Perry, however, is his Jungian influence which tends to see ‘the unconscious’ as a threat to the ego. I am with Goddess feminists who strongly critique Jung on this major point. because what his is doing is carrying on the patriarchal fear OF the ‘feminine unoconscious’ and being a threat to the ‘male ego/consciousness’

      In the book Myth and Sexuality, by Jamake Highwater, the author makes it clear that the prime mythical motif which reveals the patriarchal agenda over millennia is the battle between the ‘heroic ego’ versus the Serpent. This is depicted in art as an armoured male, sword raised, and usually on horseback, fighting and subduing and killing a dragon/serpent/monster. It is important with the eyes of the child -in the fairy tale who sees the emperor is naked-to directly see through this image to the truth. That it is revealing the self image of the male patriarch who imagines himself to be ‘light, consciousness, intelligence, reason’ forever fighting against what he sees as being chaos, darkness, disorder, namely women, femininity, nature, which he sees as being ‘monstrous’ and a deep threat to his ‘enlightened’ being, and how this myth bleeds into the so-called secular world we are living in today…

      How else do we explain that more and more NATURAL feelings are categorized by the state/pharmacracy as being ‘dis-order’ and even having to be suppressed, drugged back to ‘normalcy and order’?

      This shows that that toxic myth still permeates even those who consider themselves the most ‘rational and scientific’. And how even children younger and younger, including babies, are included victims of this toxic myth. A myth which is also extremely lucrative for the industry which pushes it bringing in BILLIONS in profit for them.

      If we can begin to understand the power of mythology, and how this natural depth of humans has been used by certain mindsets to manipulate us then this is an included deeper from of helping us to disentangle ourselves from the toxic propaganda. When we become aware we see through.

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  7. Thank you, James, and Johann, for this. It is a remarkably thoughtful and interesting interview and I think Johann’s work can do a great deal to get this perspective and information out to a wider audience. I also want to recommend very highly his earlier book on the war on drugs, “Chasing the Scream.” I always thought it just started with Nixon but, in fact, goes way back to the 20s and has profoundly racist and political roots.

    There are many wise people and wonderful writers here at MIA, but Johann is able to take this material to the next level, narratively-speaking, and produce real page-turners that are also deeply humane and wise. For that I am very grateful.

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  8. James Moore January 27, 2018 at 7:40 am

    Personally, I learned a great deal from reading the book and interviewing Johaan.

    littleturtle February 5, 2018 at 10:33 am

    thanks again james and johann….I read the book…lost connections….I learned a lot…very helpful


    What did you learn?

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  9. this podcast is helping me think even more about my troubled life…
    I am very old and at the end of the line…I look back on my sadness and fears…
    I care what others are saying about how they have been hurt…
    but I see my hurt as having a mental illness…I know that most don’t like these words..
    but I use them because it tells a story that I don’t want to be forgotten…
    and I love the bio/psy/soc model of causation…it works for me…
    I learned from the book that bio/bio/bio is not reality…
    psy and soc are crucial to understand suffering….
    and there is an article somewhere that saw a model bio/psy/soc/econ/pol..

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  10. There isn’t a biopsychosocial model of causation of mental illness. It’s more of a buzz-word than anything. There is no science behind it. It’s more of a badge really that people wear to indicate that they are against biological reductionism in psychiatry. I’m sorry that you are in love with a model that isn’t really a model. You may find some comfort in the fact that I too once fell in love with a model that didn’t exist. She was an airbrushed face on a page.

    It’s common sense that some unknown interplay of biology, psychology and social factors play a role in much of what we call mental illness, but there are some big glaring holes. For instance, mania, true mania (ie not induced by drugs or some form of hypnosis) seems to be a purely biological phenomena. Of course, its character will be influenced by personal and social factors, stands to reason, but as it is about energy, an overabundance of it, it can’t be sensibly pinned down as being a result of anything but a brain on steroids, to coin a phrase.

    “I learned from the book that bio/bio/bio is not reality…”

    Arguably biology is reality, in its most reductive sense. That’s what has current psychiatry all awestruck. Without a brain there is nothing, therefore only the brain counts. Problem there being that while that is most likely true — without a brain there is nothing — it is discounting all the many social and environmental and economic and political factors that happen when brains group together. And while it is incorrect to define the human being as a social animal (severely autistic people can be altogether asocial, but are nonetheless human, and all attempts at converting them into social beings being nothing less than inhumane) it is in social processes that human beings make much of their meaning. Not all of their meaning but much of it.

    I’m okay with you expressing the fact that, in so many words, you have suffered through life because of madness. You choose to call it mental illness and if you wish to, go ahead. Whatever you choose to call it, it remains an unknown. For a long time people have believed that the way to understanding consciousness (something else unknown) is to study mad people. In a nutshell, that study boils down to various ways of fucking with mad people. Psychiatry has led the way in experimenting on mad people for so long now that we have the status of guinea pig.

    But still no-one knows. Despite whatever anyone claims, it remains an unknown. In fact most attempts at explaining madness tell you more about the person attempting the explication. So you get fashions and trends and buzz-words…

    such as biopsychosocial.

    Best wishes.

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  11. I have a mental illness….I am not a mental illness….
    I have suffered enough….and I will look to the bio/psy/soc model…
    to find help wherever it may be….I already have been helped by a psychiatrist
    and a psychologist and a social worker…I give thanks to all who have helped me..

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  12. Even if you capitalise the term “mental illness” you can’t make it more real. We are all survivors, until the end. Then we die.

    Something I learnt from listening to Johann Hari was that the next time I am suffering through a bout of unhappiness, I should try and buy myself a Cambodian cow, and tend to it. In fact, down at the local Wellness and Recovery Group, I’m running an innovative fund-raising campaign to get the money together so that every mentally ill depressed person can be allocated a Cambodian cow to tend to.

    The dung will go in a compost bin, which will be painted in bright Recovery-focused colours depicting tapestries of famous Recovery Journeys.

    It’s beautiful and the tears well up in my eyes just thinking about it.

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    • rasselas, perhaps as people who have suffered terribly from having others control our minds to make us conform–well, perhaps we should not seek to control how others use words that are meaningful to them and how they think. Perhaps we should not do what was done to us, even if it is in more subtle form. Perhaps, like all who have suffered abuse, it is not our fault but nonetheless our responsibility to not perpetuate the cycle by seeking to dominate and control and ridicule others who are in pain. Maybe we should listen, instead?

      I see it all the time here, people who have been hurt and are in such pain becoming very angry and impatient with each other and painting us back into the black and white, polarized box of thinking we’re trying so hard to get out of.

      As for mental illness, I actually agree with you for the obvious reasons and avoid using the term myself. On the other hand, if I have a stomach virus, which of course indicates nothing inherently wrong with me but simply a hostile foreign invasion, I do feel ill and have a physical illness. While the context is different (which is why I don’t use the term), nonetheless, the painful rubbish our minds have been filled with from trauma and propaganda and drugs is not so different, so who am I to tell someone he does not have a mental illness? I might explain why I think it’s a problem , but in the end I will always be for cognitive liberation, not domination. Even more, first and foremost, I will be for compassion for others who have suffered.

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  13. Ideas are not people. Neither are punctuation and grammar. Punctuation and grammar are not people. Sending up an idea or punctuation of grammar is not ridiculing a person. Reach that point of insight and you will remove a great deal of unnecessary pain from your life.

    Please re-read my text. I make it absolutely plain that I don’t have any issues with people that wish to imagine they have an actual mental illness. It’s a popular modern delusion and I can just about tolerate it.

    In fact, dig deeper and you will see that I am not one of the hardliners that dominate under the line here. In fact, Joanna Moncrieff is more radical than me and relative to the regulars here, she’s a moderate.

    I believe that madness is like an illness. As with dementia, just because something is unestablished, doesn’t mean the investigation is done an dusted. It’s simply unsolved.

    I like to give people the opportunity to be supercilious. I think that is unconscious and relates back to my scapegoating in childhood.

    I have a pathological sense of humour. It is masochistic in its pursuit of shaming.

    Writing that made me laugh. Which again, is indicative of a deeply troubled mind.

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