Why Having No Hope for the Future Causes Depression

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Lost Connections" by Johann Hari. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How does having no hope for the future cause depression? Why is it so important for you to feel in control of your life?

Having no hope for the future makes it impossible to plan ahead since you can’t picture a better and secure life for yourself. This can cause depression to set in. Being able to envision an attainable, happy life is very important because, without it, you lose control over your life. Loss of control naturally triggers depression.

Read more about how having no hope for the future leads to depression.

Have Hope for the Future

While disconnection from childhood trauma is a form of disconnection from the past, this section focuses on disconnection from the future: specifically, being unable to picture a hopeful future for yourself—or even any future at all. 

You might assume that having no hope for the future is just another symptom of depression—people get depressed, so they stop planning ahead because there doesn’t seem to be a point—but a lost sense of the future can also cause depression. Researchers confirmed this by studying indigenous First Nations groups in Canada. For generations, indigenous Canadians have suffered the same state-sanctioned abuses as Native Americans in the United States, including being forced off their ancestral land and into reservations. As a result, suicide rates were higher among First Nations people than any other group in Canada—but those suicides were clustered in only half of the 196 indigenous nations. The other half had zero suicides. 

The reason for that stark difference had to do with control. Until recently, the Canadian government took over control of nearly every aspect of life in indigenous communities, including schools, elected officials, and even the local language. In the last few decades, some indigenous nations have successfully reclaimed control of some of their rights; others are still completely at the mercy of the federal government. That split in nations’ degree of control maps perfectly onto the suicide data: Nations with the most control of their own lives had the lowest suicide rates, while nations with the least control had the highest suicide rates. 

Feeling in control of your life is so important to avoiding depression because when you don’t control your life, you can’t control your future; and when you have no way to influence the future, it’s hard to picture a happy one that feels remotely attainable. If your present reality is brutal and you have no hope for the future, depression is a pretty logical response.

For people outside First Nations communities, the loss of control that leads to no hope for the future and ultimately depression takes the form of unstable work, which is far less traumatic but can still have a powerful impact on mental health. The rise of the “gig economy” means that stable, guaranteed employment is no longer the norm. More people than ever are working for hourly wages with no contract and no guarantee that they’ll still have a job next week, let alone next year. Without that security, it becomes impossible to picture the future, and depression sets in. 

Why Having No Hope for the Future Causes Depression

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  • The psychological and social factors that contribute to mental illness
  • The history of antidepressants and the science behind them
  • Why Amish people hardly ever get depressed

Joseph Adebisi

Joseph has had a lifelong obsession with reading and acquiring new knowledge. He reads and writes for a living, and reads some more when he is supposedly taking a break from work. The first literature he read as a kid were Shakespeare's plays. Not surprisingly, he barely understood any of it. His favorite fiction authors are Tom Clancy, Ted Bell, and John Grisham. His preferred non-fiction genres are history, philosophy, business & economics, and instructional guides.

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