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Humor May Actually Be Good Medicine for These 5 Conditions

Harold Mandel's picture
Cartoon characters

The stories about humor being good medicine may not just be myths. There has been a lot of discussion over the years about the possibility that humor can make people more resilient to illness. Certainly a good laugh usually makes people feel somewhat better. New research supports the premise that humor in the form of cartoons can help people cope better with chronic illnesses.

A significant potential for the use of cartoons to assist in dealing with long-term conditions has been explored, reports BMC Health Services Research. Nevertheless, the use of cartoons has been notably absent in many areas of health care. Researchers decided to develop and evaluate cartoons and their acceptability for use for a series of self-management guidebooks for people suffering from various conditions, including:

1: Inflammatory bowel disease

2: Irritable bowel syndrome

3: Diabetes

4: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

5: Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

Overall, the cartoons which were developed depicted various relevant situations, including:

1: Patient experiences

2: Common situations

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3: Daily management dilemmas making decisions and choices

4: Uncertainties associated with conditions

It has been observed that humor is frequently utilized by people suffering from long-term conditions in order to help them with adjustment and coping. Cartoons can offer assistance with clarity and understanding and may address concerns which are related to health literacy. The use of cartoons to engage and motivate people presents us with a consideration which is essentially untapped by conventional theories. Cartoons and a good laugh have the potential to improve information to help with self-management. Cartoons have been found to affect morale and potential future behavior.

It therefore appears cartoons could actually help patients cope with their chronic health conditions, reports the University of Southampton on March 28, 2014 in a discussion of this research. It has been shown by researchers from the University of Southampton that cartoons may really be a beneficial way of educating patients and empowering them to cope more effectively with their long term health conditions.

Associate Professor Dr Anne Kennedy, who led the study, has said, “Humour is frequently and naturally used by people with chronic illnesses to help them adjust and understand what is happening to them." Kennedy has also said, “Our study has shown that cartoons could provide clarity to patients and be a way to engage with them. It is an untapped resource and could be a potential approach to support self-management.”

In this research the cartoons were incorporated into a guidebook which was given to patients who were suffering from chronic kidney disease. The patients were asked to share their opinion regarding the use of cartoons and humor in regular patient information and then they were asked to evaluate the cartoons which were drawn for the guidebook. The results demonstrated a range of feelings towards the cartoons including:

1: Amusement

2: Recognition

3: Hostility

Incentives to action

The patients shared that overall the cartoons were useful for them to help in lightening the tone of information while helping them gain insight and understanding they had not had before. It is the feeling of Dr Kennedy that health professionals could use a cartoon approach to assist their patients to engage more in the management of their own chronic conditions.

It appears to me that a humorous approach to helping patients cope with chronic conditions via the use of cartoons has great potential. I have often found that a lack of a light approach to patients in dealing with chronic conditions appears to spiral them off into depressive states. A lighter approach using humor generally appears to lift the patient's mood and attitude about their situation. And so in many cases laughter may actually be good medicine.