There is a well-known story about the writer Norman Cousins who claimed to have beaten ankylosing spondylitis by watching Laurel and Hardy and Marx Brothers movies. In his book Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, he chronicles the way in which he laughed his way to health.
In recent years there has been a great deal of interest in the idea of using laughter to prevent and treat mood disorders. We have Laughter Clubs and even Laughter Yoga.
When you first hear about it, the whole idea sounds preposterous: if you are suffering from clinical depression, it is not very likely that you are going to feel like laughing.
So it was very interesting to see some new research (NR46) from colleagues at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center that were presented yesterday at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Diego, California.
Some literature has suggested that humor may help reduce stress and anxiety, but the data has been inconclusive.
The researchers investigated the dispositions toward humor of a group of depressed patients in the outpatient psychiatric department at Cedars-Sinai. Patients were asked to complete a short questionnaire comprised of a regular depression scale as well as Svebak’s Sense-of-Humor Questionnaire.
The researchers had predicted that the level of depression and inherent sense of humor of an individual would determine whether or not they thought that humor would be a viable component of treatment.
In fact there was no correlation with either: depressed people were remarkably receptive to the idea of including humor in their treatment. The researchers are now planning some controlled studies of incorporating humor into the treatment of depressed patients.
Perhaps Patch Adams was right all along!