Monday, September 17, 2012

Nurse Randi Speaks: Morphing Misery Into Material

A Cheap Way To Replace Depression

This article from makes an interesting suggestion that takes the usual advice a step further. As a nurse as well as a person with depression, I've done a lot of research for my patients as well as for myself and found that common advice includes seeking out things that produce smiles and laughter -- funny people, funny tv shows, funny websites, funny books. Great advice, but pretty passive. In this article, Gina Roberts-Grey urges the sufferer to retell details of depressing experiences with a different perspective. At first that may seem awkward, but the truth is that doing so teaches a person to see everything in a new light. Misery morphs into MATERIAL! The lonely downward vortex reverses itself into an upward spin as the budding comedian searches for commonly-experienced situations and feelings to share with others. Very clever idea! People have died from depression gone out of control, but nobody ever died from comedy, which can only get better.

The Benefits of Laughter Therapy
By Gina Roberts-Grey, Special to Lifescript 
Published September 16, 2012
Depression is no laughing matter, but some experts say that comedy – along with antidepressants or therapy – can lift your spirits. Find out how...
Laughter may the best medicine when you need a little pick-me-up. But can telling jokes be a fix for depression?

“Learning to tell jokes is one way to rediscover your sense of humor,” says Katie Valentino, a licensed clinical social worker in Bloomingdale, Ill.

Although laughing about depression may seem inappropriate, therapists say that sharing intimate – and often embarrassing – details of your depression with wit and wisecracks can be cathartic. In fact, for some people with depression, making others or yourself laugh really is good medicine.

“Humor is a healthy defense mechanism that allows a person with depression to master an unpleasant situation so she can gain control and begin to recover,” says Joseph Hullett, M.D., a San Juan Capistrano, Calif., psychiatrist.

Research agrees.

Humor "significantly" improved satisfaction with life and cheerfulness in older people experiencing depressive symptoms, according to a small 2010 German study of 90 depressed participants. 
The Benefits of Laughter Telling jokes – even when they’re at your expense – and laughing in general, can be comforting and constructive.

Here are 6 reasons why humor can be such a healing force:
1. Humor humanizes and demystifies depression. “It's an unlikely form of group therapy that fosters hope and optimism in people with depression,” says psychiatrist Michael Banov, M.D., medical director of Northwest Behavioral Medicine and Research Center in Atlanta.

Humor can lift misconceptions while conveying the message that depression is a common condition that, with proper treatment, can have a successful long-term outcome.
2. Humor can literally lighten moods. “It benefits both emotional and physical health by boosting blood flow to the brain and increasing dopamine and endorphins, brain chemicals involved in depression and other mood disorders,” Dr. Banov says. 

3. Humor relieves stress.
“Laughing releases brain chemicals that counter production of the stress hormone cortisol,” Dr. Banov explains.

Managing stress helps people with depression control symptoms and reduce anxiety.

4. Humor can develop better coping skills.
“Revisiting the negative experience, seeing the humorous side and then humanizing it in a funny way for others can help you cope with your depression,” Dr. Hullett says.

When something doesn’t go according to plan, instead of slipping into a depressive state, think about how to turn the situation into a joke you can tell later.

5. Humor lessen the stigma of depression. It can reduce the shame people often feel about depression, says Canadian therapist and comedian David Granirer, founder of Stand Up for Mental Health, a program that teaches people with mental illnesses to perform stand-up comedy in Vancouver, Canada.

“When someone tells a humorous version of one of the worst points of their life, and that story or joke is met with laughter and raves, they feel differently about themselves," he says. "They think, ‘Maybe I’m not such a bad person.' ”Comedy creates a “unique cosmic shift” for people with depression because the things they’re ashamed of – such as a hospitalization – become fodder for new material.

“These are things they wouldn’t normally want to talk about, but are a source of strength,” he says. “I tell people you can't change the past, but you can get the last laugh.”

6. Humor can boost self-esteem. Granirer started Stand Up for Mental Health to help people with depression “carve out a chance to succeed at something most people without mental illness would never dream of trying.”

Tackling the fear of baring your soul, but also appearing funny in the process, can give people with depression a “performance edge,” he says.

Stepping on stage during classes, then taking it one step further to perform in nightclubs or around their dinner table can be empowering and therapeutic.“Getting the laugh is simply the icing on the cake,” Granirer says.

Getting started Ready to reap the benefits of laughter? These tips will increase the odds that your comedic foray is successful.

Ease into the role. Start slowly by tossing in a funny quip or two once in a while when talking to close friends and family.

“The safest way to incorporate humor is gradually, especially if it’s not typically part of your personality,” says Katie Valentino, a licensed clinical social worker in Bloomingdale, Ill.

But don’t use humor to share the news of your disorder, Valentino advises.

“A person with depression needs to have family and friends understand the importance of the diagnosis,” says Valentino. 

Consider your audience. To determine the best joke for a situation, think about the audience: Co-workers? Family members? New friends?

People you’ve just met probably aren’t ideal for sharing your most personal details with, Valentino says.

“Gauge the intimacy of the relationship to see [what’s appropriate],” she suggests.

Avoid putting yourself down. Depressed people often lack of a strong sense of self, and intentionally belittling yourself worsens that lack of self-esteem.

There’s a fine line between self-deprecation and self-abuse. You’ll need a therapist’s help to find and set boundaries, Valentino says. 

Say “sorry”
 when needed. 
Don’t beat yourself up if a joke unintentionally offends someone. In that case, apologize.

Valentino suggests saying, “I’m sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. I'm just trying to figure this whole thing out.” 

When humor falls short But laughing at – or about depression – isn’t right for everyone.

Although many experts say most people with depression or any mental illness respond well to humor, some might feel a blow to self-confidence – even self-loathing – if they don’t get a laugh or, worse, are heckled.

Granirer offers 3 tips to combat potential negative reactions:

  • Don’t take flops personally. Humor is subjective, and people find different things funny. Even the most famous comedians bomb occasionally.
  • Avoid repeating mistakes. Start a humor journal to record jokes that work and don’t.
  • Talk it out. Share your experiences with your therapist and don’t brood over negative reactions.

If you're struggling with depression, these resources can help:

Lifescript's Depression Health Center
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 
Phone: 1-888-333-AFSP (1-888-333-2377)
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Phone: 1-800-826-3632
The International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression 
Phone: 443-782-0739
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Phone: 1-866-615-6464 (toll-free) Could You Be Depressed?Depression affects 20 million people in any given year and is a serious enough disorder to compromise one's ability to function normally day to day. Find out if you're just blue or if you might be clinically depressed.

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