By Judith Woodward
U.S. Army Public Health Command
Depression is one of the most common medical conditions. It can affect anyone at any time. This year, the Army is joining organizations and communities across the nation to raise awareness about the dangers of depression. The Army’s theme, “The Courage to Seek Help,” emphasizes that depression is one of the most treatable behavioral health conditions. Getting an early diagnosis and treatment may help reduce the intensity and duration of depression symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in 10 Americans report depression. This means that every year more than 31 million Americans say they suffer from depression. It can affect men, women, the elderly and even children.
Laughter, it’s said, is the best medicine. And there is a lot of evidence that laughter can help ease stress, pain, sadness, even depression.
Studies show that:
• Laughter helps make you happy. Laughter increases the release of endorphins, which are the body’s feel-good chemicals that make you feel well and can even relieve pain.
• Laughter helps you relax. The harder you laugh the more muscles you use in your face, arms, legs and stomach. Using these large muscle groups increases oxygen flow, so that your muscles relax more efficiently.
• Laughter helps you stay healthy. Laughter decreases stress hormones, helps protect you against infections like a cold or the flu, and increases your ability to fight off infections.
• Laughter makes you smarter. OK, laughter cannot really make you smarter, but it can boost your memory and learning ability by increasing important brain activity in your cerebral cortex, which controls your higher functioning.
While some events are clearly not occasions for laughter, most life events do not push you towards either laughter or sadness. Most will fall into the in-between place of simple, ordinary life — this gives you the choice to be sad, or the choice to laugh. Although studies do not show that laughter adds years to your life, there is evidence that laughter can add life to your years.
For those who feel they need more than laughter to deal with depression, primary care or behavioral healthcare providers can provide screening and care.
The Department of Defense also offers anonymous behavioral health assessments for service members, family members and civilians 24 hours a day, seven days a week, here.