Laughter CD for Depression on Sale in Austria

By Michael Leidig
VIENNA (Reuters Health) Nov 27 2002 - A compact disc of people laughing, produced by the Austrian society for depression-related illnesses (OeGDE), has gone on the market in Europe in a serious bid to help patients "see the brighter side of life."

The CD is a 20-minute compilation of what the makers describe as "infectious laughter and motivation-boosting statements by celebrities."

Dr. Hermann Koutek, from the OeGDE, told Reuters Health that they wanted to give those with depression something to laugh about.

"When someone is really depressed, there is usually nothing in their lives to laugh at. We wanted to produce something simple but effective that people can easily turn to when they want to be cheered up," he said.

He said the CD should be treated seriously and was not just a gimmick.

"There has been solid scientific research behind the CD. The people who come for help at the OeGDE usually suffer from severe depression. They can neither laugh nor cry. They are empty inside and cannot express any emotions, whether positive or negative. They simply do not care."

"The process of bringing depressed people out of this despondency has to be a slow and sensitive one. We have found a laugh is infectious. It can lift somebody out of a deep depression, even if it is only for a little while--but it's a good start," he said.

Dr. Koutek added that a CD of laughter is much more likely to work than other laughter- inducing experiences because it is only directed at one of the senses and is less likely to cause offence.

"Depression sufferers are very sensitive, they cannot be overburdened with sounds, images or feelings, which is why the CD works. Sound is much easier to take in than pictures. Music is also good as a first step to recovery, but not all will have the same uplifting effects as laughter."

Dr. Koutek added that the CD worked best when used alongside prescribed medicine. "Medication is also needed for long-term recovery," he said.

The CD, which is currently only available in German, features the laughter of a number of Austrian celebrities, including Olympic ski champion Michaela Dorfmeister, singer Reinhardt Fendrich, Governor of Lower Austria Erwin Proll and former star footballer Tony Polster.

Dr. Koutek said that he would also be interested in making laughter CDs for foreign language markets. He said: "As far as I am aware, this is the only such CD in the world. It would be a great step in the battle against depression, it transcends borders."

The OeGDE is an Austrian-based physicians' organisation founded 2 years ago. It provides help and information on depression-related illnesses to both doctors and patients, and promotes home visits to housebound patients. The society is also hoping to expand across borders. Dr Koutek said: "We have looked for similar associations the world over but have been unsuccessful. There are many self-help groups, but these usually aren't supported by professionals. We would very much like to set up a network of similar organisations across Europe and eventually all around the world."