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Scientists say they’ve identified the real cause of depression (and it’s not a “chemically imbalanced” brain)

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Author Johann Hari is one of millions of people across the world who suffered from depression and couldn’t find relief through antidepressants.

According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.

His years of desperate research into the subject to find answers led Hari to several surprising discoveries:

  • many leading scientists believe the whole idea that depression is caused by a “chemically imbalanced” brain is wrong.
  • the real cause of depression is likely related to childhood trauma, as explained below.

Hari is the author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions.

He writes in The Huffington Post about one of the major causes of depression, which was very painful for him to face and deal with.

“One of the reasons I clung to the theory that my depression was just the result of something going wrong with my brain was, I see now, so I would not have to think about this.”

A remarkable scientist, Dr. Vincent Felitti.

In his search, Hari heard about Dr. Vincent Felitti in San Diego, California.

The story of Dr. Felitti’s breakthrough stretches back to the mid-1980s, when it happened almost by accident, writes Hari.


Felitti had been commissioned by the medical provider Kaiser Permanente to figure out how to solve the company’s exploding obesity costs.

When the patients first came into Felitti’s office, some of them found it hard to fit through the door. He tried a radical idea: he had them stop eating and survive on the fat stores in their bodies, aided by carefully monitored nutrition supplements.

It worked. The patients shed weight and became healthy.

But then a strange thing happened.

The medical team expected people who lost huge amounts of weight to be elated, but instead many of them often became severely depressed, or suffered panic, or rage, writes Hari. Some of them even became suicidal. They often left the program, gorged on fast food, and put weight back on very fast.

Felitti was baffled. Why were people reacting this way? Why were they not happy with finally losing all that weight?

A startling discovery

One of Felitti’s patients, a 28-year-old woman went down from 408 pounds to 132 pounds. Then, quite suddenly, she started putting weight on again and soon she was back above 400 pounds.

So Felitti asked her gently what had changed when she started to lose weight. They talked for a long time and then she made a shocking revelation.

One seminal thing did indeed change as soon as she lost weight.

When she was obese, men never hit on her, but when she got down to a healthy weight, for the first time in a long time, she was propositioned by a man. She fled, and right away began to eat compulsively, and she couldn’t stop.

This was when Felitti thought to ask a question he hadn’t asked before. When did you start to put on weight?

She thought about the question. When she was 11 years old, she said. So he asked: “Was there anything else that happened in your life when you were 11?”

“Well, she replied ― that was when my grandfather began to rape me.”


Felitti spoke to all 183 people in the program and he found 55 percent had been sexually abused. It turned out many of these women had been making themselves obese for an unconscious reason: to protect themselves from the attention of men, who they believed would hurt them.

Felitti had an insight: “What we had perceived as the problem ― major obesity ― was in fact, very frequently, the solution to problems that the rest of us knew nothing about.”

(Buddhism has an incredible amount to teach us about letting go and healing. In our new eBook, we use iconic Buddhist teachings to provide no-nonsense suggestions for living a better life. Check it out here).

A major study shows childhood trauma causes adult depression

Felitti launched a massive program of research, funded by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. He wanted to discover how all kinds of childhood trauma affect us as adults.

“He administered a simple questionnaire to 17,000 ordinary patients in San Diego, who were coming just for general health care – anything from a headache to a broken leg. It asked if any of 10 bad things had happened to you as a kid, like being neglected, or emotionally abused. Then it asked if you had any of 10 psychological problems, like obesity or depression or addiction. He wanted to see what the matchup was.”

The results were clear: “Childhood trauma caused the risk of adult depression to explode. If you had seven categories of the traumatic event as a child, you were 3,100 percent more likely to attempt to commit suicide as an adult, and more than 4,000 percent more likely to be an injecting drug user.”


In the article, Hari reveals that he had suffered severe cruelty from an adult as a child and explores his theories on why so many people who experience violence in childhood feel the same way and why it often leads them to self-destructive behavior.

If you would like to know more, you can access his complete article here.

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Notable replies

  1. We tend to create a walled garden or house to inhabit, that is our foundational axioms from which we act. If a foundation beam breaks we suffer til we go in, grab the dead wood , pick it up , move it out of the way , then release it, only then can we set a more solid foundation.
    We can adopt societal ideals of behavior, but we must be aware that it is folly to bear our house weight on that beam because we live in the same wilderness as our ancestors in many ways. We must be strong as the environment because we are never separate from it.

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Written by Coert Engels

I'm a South African based writer and am passionate about exploring the latest ideas in artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology. I also focus on the human condition, with a particular interest human intuition and creativity. To share some feedback about my articles, email me at [email protected]

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