TMI Reviews: Nathaniel Drew’s mini-doc on loneliness

To kickstart a new review series, we’re beginning with a fresh new mini-documentary from YouTuber Nathaniel Drew. The video, which is just shy of 20 minutes long, explores loneliness, something which Nathaniel says he has struggled with at times during the pandemic. He figured if he had, then other people had too. If you have watched any of Nathaniel Drew’s content before then you know that his videos are always beautiful to watch, you’ll be pleased to read his mini-doc is no different. But we want to look deeper than just the aesthetics. In this review will take a look at just how successful Nathaniel’s documentary answers the question: ‘What causes loneliness and how can we tackle it?’ So let’s get into it.

Firstly, let’s address the title, ‘Watch this if you’re feeling lonely (I got advice from experts)’. While I think this title is okay I think that it does itself a disservice. Having watched it I think that this is more than just a video for people feeling lonely. The video covers anxiety, depression and to some extent, just being human and better understanding your emotions. I understand that he can’t include everything in the title, but I feel as though giving it a clickbait-esque title he has somewhat undermined its depth.

Title out the way the video begins in typical Nathaniel Drew fashion with some beautiful cinematic shots, mellow music, and Nathaniel’s smooth voice narrating over the top. He says, “there’s a very different kind of pandemic sweeping the world than the one we’ve all heard so much about this year. It’s a different kind of problem than we’ve ever had to face before and it’s one we can’t create a vaccine for.”

cinematic shot with 'disconnection' spelt out on screen
Beautiful cinematic shots are a common feature of Nathaniel’s videos and this mini-doc is no different

He then goes on to highlight the growing rates of anxiety and depression in the world, despite us being “more technologically connected than ever before”. The introduction does well to set up the mini-documentary and the beautiful shots and background music set the tone nicely.

After his brief introduction we are then introduced to the first of two interviewees which we see in the video – Dr Nicole LePera, PHD. She is a holistic psychologist who admits herself as having struggled with loneliness while in college studying psychology.

Nathaniel Drew FaceTiming with Dr LePera
Dr LePera, who has just under 3 million followers on Instagram, is the first interviewee we see

Her first point is that she believes many of us aren’t necessarily given the tools to be human, to “understand our emotions fully”. She says the first step to having a better understanding of our emotions is “awareness”. By this she means being more aware of when and what we are feeling something. She states that in our brains is a gift that helps us with this – neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is defined as “the ability of the brain to develop synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience following injury”. In other words, says Dr LePera, “the more we practice consciousness the more our brains starts to fire off accordingly and the easier it becomes”. She then opens up about her own experience of this, stating that she felt lonely and disassociated in college, blaming others for seemingly not being able to connect with her. She states she’d feel lonely even with so many people around until she realised that the reason was because “I wasn’t connected with me”.

This insight from Dr LePera is just one of the many great soundbites from the documentary that give you food for thought. It’s the first attempt from the mini-doc to explore the real root of loneliness. It is after these great words of wisdom from Dr LePera that you might hope to get some practical advice. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen and, as I’ll pick up on later, this is a running theme. At times this mini-documentary hits some great points but then just moves on rather than delving deeper or expanding on practical examples.

The next segment of Nathaniel’s loneliness doc features our second interviewee; Johann Hari. Johann is a half-Swiss half-Scottish author who’s looked extensively at the topic of anxiety, depression and addiction. Nathaniel later states he found out about Johann through reading his book ‘Lost Connections’.

Author Johann Hari offers some great insight through a couple of powerful examples of effective social prescribing

The interview starts off with Johann telling a story of when anti-depressants were first introduced in Cambodia. It is a fascinating story which touches on the idea of ‘social prescribing’. It’s the notion that rather than simply prescribing traditional anti-depressant drugs, you attempt to get to the root of the problem. Taking a more holistic approach, social prescribing looks for programmes or activities in the community that could help improve a patients mental and physical well-being.

He says the Cambodian doctors understood, intuitively, what the World Health Organisation had been saying for years; “if you’re depressed, if you’re anxious, you’re not weak, you’re not crazy, you’re not a machine with broken parts. You’re a human being with unmet needs”. He states that many of us understand we have physical human needs, but many of us also forget or are unaware of our emotional needs too. Needs such as “feeling like you belong, [feeling] like your life has meaning and purpose, you need to feel that people see you and value you….We’ve been getting less and less good at meeting these deep, underlying psychological needs.”

This quote from Johann is another great soundbyte from Nathaniel’s mini-doc. It’s also another attempt from Nathaniel to explore what causes many of us to feel lonely and Johann’s powerful examples help to convey the practical application of what he’s saying.

As you might expect, Johann is a big fan of social prescribing. He states he’s not opposed to the use of traditional anti-depressants but does say that “every doctors office in the United States, in Britain, in Australia, across the world, should have a social prescribing wing. It’s much cheaper than drugging people and in many cases it’s much more effective…Precisely because this problem goes so much deeper than our biology, so the solutions need to go deeper.”

We then jump back to Dr LePera who is asked to provide some concrete ways to develop better self-awareness. If checking in with your emotions is not something you do regularly, or well, Dr LePera suggests that for 2 – 3 weeks you set alarms on your phone at random times in the day. When the alarm goes off, you ask yourself two questions. Am I feeling something? If so, what am I feeling? Through this, we’re now finally given some practical advice.

In the final part of the mini-doc Nathaniel touches on something that many watching would of been thinking; ‘it’s all good and well being more self-aware but with the pandemic going on I just feel crap all the time’. Dr. LePera admits that things are more difficult now than usual but she says that it’s important to be honest. “We can’t keep telling people no I don’t want to see you when they FaceTime you and then be upset that noone is connecting with you…the honest conversation might be I want to connect but I’m just not ready to connect”. We then cut to Johann who gives his own bit of advice; “if you’re depressed, if you’re anxious, don’t let anyone tell you you are weak, or crazy, or biologically broken. You are not. You are not alone. We’ve got to fight for the changes…Depression and anxiety can in one way help us, these are signals, they are telling us something has gone wrong, what we need to do is stop insulting these signals…and start listening to them. Because they are telling us something we really need to hear”.

The mini-doc ends just like it started – with Nathaniel showing off his film-making skills with some beautiful shots

The final verdict

Overall, the mini-documentary is a good overview of loneliness and sheds light on some really interesting ideas and theories. The interviews flow well and both Johann and Dr LePera offer some valuable insights and advice. Where this documentary comes short is in it’s depth. At the start of this review I said I would assess how successful Nathaniel’s documentary answers the question: ‘What causes loneliness and how can we tackle it?’ The answer is that he answers the first question well but is lacking when it comes to tackling loneliness.

I do like the attempt to widen the conversation to include anxiety and depression and there definitely is some food for thought there, but it is lacking in practical advice. All in all, at only 20 minutes long, this mini-documentary felt about 20 minutes too short. I think it would be improved by the inclusion of a couple more interviews and especially ones where some more practical advice on dealing with anxiety and loneliness could be given. The title states ‘watch this if you’re feeling lonely’ and I would recommend it to anyone who is. But if you’re looking for an in-depth, practical guide to tackling loneliness then this will leave you disappointed.

I look forward to seeing more of Nathaniel’s mini-documentaries, he is such a talented film maker after all, I just hope that if he does another he isn’t afraid to go deeper.

Want to check out the mini-documentary yourself? Check it out here.

Score: 6/10

*Just before this review was due to be posted Nathaniel Drew uploaded a video to his YouTube channel announcing he was taking a break from YouTube and social media. Whilst this is sad news, to some extent it underscores the importance of the messages in his mini-documentary. We should all be taking care of ourselves, including our mental health. If you are struggling with your mental health then know there are plenty of organisations out there ready and willing to help. For more information check out the NHS website.*

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