Effective yet underestimated depression treatment could help even patients suffering from severe depressive disorders.
Many of us have felt sad at some point in our lives, but when these feelings intensify and last for longer than a few days, it could be an indication that you are suffering from depression.
Clinical depression is a medical condition that is far more serious than the occasional bouts of sadness. Experts say that if you have at least five of the following symptoms, it is likely that you are suffering from depression:
- Feeling depressed throughout the day
- Extreme tiredness or lack of energy or motivation
- Feeling worthless
- Lack of concentration
- Sleeping too much during the day
- Not being able to sleep at night
- No interest in taking part in pleasurable activities
- Suicidal thoughts
- Significant weight gain or loss
One other symptom is that we tend to have if we are depressed is that we lose our sense of humour. Jokes fall flat, we cannot see the funny side in anything, and nothing has the capacity to make us laugh.
Depression and Humor
If you think about, depression and humour have always been linked. How many well-known comedians do you know that have struggled with severe depression? Robin Williams tragically committed suicide, whereas Stephen Fry described how suffering from bipolar disorder almost led him to ‘permanent oblivion’. And did you know that Charlie Chaplin suffered from crippling depression and once said:
“To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it.”
British comic Tony Hancock also committed suicide, Spike Milligan wrote books on the subject, and Carry On star Kenneth Williams said:
“I certainly wouldn’t call myself a happy human being. All the comedians I’ve ever known have been deeply depressive people, manic depressive. They keep it at bay with this façade.”
As depression and humour are so seemingly intrinsically connected, some scientists have started to use humour to alleviate the symptoms of depression.
One study, carried out at the Washington University School of Medicine, took the notion of humour to its most basic premise. It used laughing gas as a depression treatment to make severely depressed patients laugh.
The study used nitrous oxide, (laughing gas) and gave it to 20 patients whose depression had not responded to treatment. This was the same mixture of laughing gas a dentist would use on his patients.
Of the 20, two-thirds reported an improvement in their condition, compared to just one-third with the placebo gas.
Dr. Charles R. Conway, one of the study’s authors, said:
“When they received nitrous oxide, many of the patients reported a rapid and significant improvement.
Although some patients also reported feeling better after breathing the placebo gas, it was clear that the overall pattern observed was that nitrous oxide improved depression above and beyond the placebo.”
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this depression treatment is the speed in which the patients felt an improvement.
Dr. Conway said:
“Most patients who improved reported that they felt better only two hours after treatment with nitrous oxide.
That compares with at least two weeks for typical oral antidepressants to exert their beneficial, antidepressant effects.”
This could be of a significant benefit to patients who are severely depressed and are at risk of committing suicide. The problem with traditional depression treatment and medication is that in real life, counsellors are not available 24/7, and anti-depressants take a good 2 weeks to have any effect.
For patients who require immediate help, this is not good enough, but with the intervention of a treatment of nitrous oxide, they are dealt with quickly, there are no side effects and the drug dissipates speedily from the body.
Professor Charles F. Zorumski, another of the study’s authors, said:
“If our findings can be replicated, a fast-acting drug like this might be particularly useful in patients with severe depression who may be at risk for suicide and who need help right away.
Or perhaps the drug could be used to relieve symptoms temporarily until more conventional treatments begin to work.”
Dr. Peter Nagele, who led the study, said:
“It’s kind of surprising that no one ever thought about using a drug that makes people laugh as a treatment for patients whose main symptom is that they’re so very sad.”
So why does laughing work well as a depression treatment?
When we laugh, this instantly triggers the release of endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemicals that give us pleasure and promote and sense of happiness.
These endorphins have been known to work as painkillers in the body, they are that powerful.
When you are laughing, it is extremely hard to feel anxious, sad or worried about anything else. The laughter takes over.
It is thought that laughter stimulates certain regions in the brain which can overcome depressive symptoms.
Other studies have shown that you don’t even need to introduce the laughing gas.
There are classes in the US called ‘Laughter Yoga’, where, if you are suffering from depression, you can go and join in with others who are simply laughing out loud. The laughter is infectious and starts those important endorphins working.
But what to do if you are alone and feeling depressed? Your first course of action should always be to visit your doctor. But once you have done that, try and inject as much laughter into your life. Go and see friends that make you smile, see a comedy act, or a funny film or TV programme. And keep doing it.
Because it seems that laughter really is the best medicine.