They say laughter is the best medicine. The physical act of laughing releases endorphins in the body. These feel-good chemicals are known to give us a positive feeling of well-being. Some research shows that they can even help in pain relief.
What about mental illness, though? Can having a sense of humor help when we’re facing depression or anxiety disorders? What about other mental conditions? Can an approach that incorporates a good old-fashioned sense of humor help us?
Laurie Finkelstein is the author of Next Therapist Please. The book is inspired by her real-life experience as she went from one therapist to the next. Laurie’s real story, and the fictional tale of her protagonist, Janie, show us how a sense of humor might be an important coping mechanism. We talked to Laurie about her book and asked for her unique insights.
Question: Depression, and mental health in general, is something that impacts one in four people, according to the World Health Organization. Your book tackles it with humor and a positive attitude. Why is having a sense of humor important when coping with mental health illness?
Finkelstein: Yes, one in four Americans suffer from one or more mental illnesses. That ‘s depressing news. And, depression, for example, is an emotionally painful experience as are many mental illnesses. Humor naturally comes from a place of pain and I believe it is an important coping mechanism and healing force.
Our finest comedians and other creatives struggle with a host of mental illnesses that we are not usually aware of until we read about their death by suicide. We need to laugh to lift the pain. Laughter has thirteen concrete health benefits and some of the benefits tackle depression and anxiety, lifting mood.
Question: Going to therapy can be daunting to some. You’ve experienced many therapists, what advice can you give for finding the right one?
Finkelstein: Luck. Seriously, you have to pick one from your health plan and hope it works. Try and get referrals from friends. When you meet the therapist, go slow and ask about the therapist’s process. See if you can build a working relationship over the course of a few weeks. If after a few visits you find you have not been able to build enough trust to disclose the worst of your thoughts, it’s best to part ways and try another. If you are slow to warm up to people, give it more time. But listen to your gut. Your wine or beer belly is smarter than you think.
I find choosing a therapist is like dating and sometimes you get a perfect match and sometimes you get a toad. But only a frog will turn into a prince or effective therapist. I am seeing therapist number seven, and she is the first one I have been able to open up completely with. Our health insurance was changed to another company beyond our control, and she is not a therapist covered by our new plan. I have been denied my second appeal to have her added as an in-network doctor and have since submitted an appeal with the State of California Insurance Board.
This is the frustrating part of managing mental illness. When you find what works, the game is changed. I can’t imagine working with a new therapist when this one is so effective. Out of network costs are too high. I’d rather change husbands than therapists. A good one will improve your life and you don’t have to do their laundry.
Question: Knowing you are not alone is powerful. What advice do you have for others who experience Depression, anxiety, OCD, stress and addiction disorders?
Finkelstein: We are most definitely not alone as 43.5 million Americans have mental illness(es). One of my goals is to help break the stigma by talking about how we really feel. There is no shame or guilt in having a mental health condition. Most people don’t want to listen to a chronic complainer, but if you are feeling particularly low, or don’t understand why you are feeling or acting a certain way, reach out to someone who will listen. You may be dealing with symptoms needing treatment through therapy and possibly medication.
If you don’t feel you have someone you can talk to, seek out local support groups. We are in this together. Let’s care about each other and encourage seeking help and being supportive.
Question: Do you have a message of hope that you would like to share? What is your motto?
Finkelstein: Whatever you are feeling at the moment, it is temporary. If you are reading this and are feeling suicidal, please talk to someone. Anyone. Here is the suicide hotline applicable anywhere in the U.S. 1 (800) 273-TALK. No clichés. just sound advice. Talk to someone. Tell them to just listen. Treatment is the next step.
Do you know the few people who have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived, have all said they regretted the action as soon as they jumped? Talk. You are not alone.
My hope is to crush the stigma of mental illness one laugh at a time, empower and support those struggling, and be an example of transparency in successful living with mental illness. Even with the bad days.
Create a toolbox with coping skills, mechanisms, and cognitive strategies. Manage the difficult days with proven practices. I have two mottos thanks to Elizabeth Warren and Imagine Dragons. “Nevertheless, I persisted”, and “I do whatever it takes”.
Question: Can you talk a little about NAMI? You donate a portion of your book sales to them. Why is that?
Finkelstein: The National Alliance on Mental Illness, otherwise know as NAMI, has been a significant resource I have used for years navigating my mental illness as well as my son’s. They are a National-non-profit grassroots organization offering support groups, classes, references, referrals, and all of it is free of charge. You can find your local NAMI group by going on their website NAMI.org.
My favorite programs offered by NAMI are the talks given at high schools by two individuals, one who lives with mental illness and shares their journey and success story. The approach is very successful in helping teens during their most vulnerable years.
The other is a 12-week class called Family to Family developed for parents, siblings, daughters, sons, spouses, etc., of a loved one with mental illness. I took the class twice for reinforcement. The class teaches better ways to communicate, access services, work around crisis and so much more.
So, I am a member of NAMI to support them, but I want to do more in appreciation of their important work and help more people, so by donating 10% of the sales from my book, I’m able to give on a more regular basis. And that is no joke.
If you would like to see how Laurie Finkelstein tackles mental health with humor, find a copy of Next Therapist Please. Available on Amazon and from other booksellers.