How Stand-Up Comedy Is Helping Improve The Wellbeing Of Mental Health Sufferers

Sometimes laughter can be the best medicine.

28/06/2016 15:31
Kelly Redinger via Getty Images
Can laughter really be the best medicine for mental health sufferers?

Mental health disorders like anxiety and depression have become an increasingly visible issue in society, but scientists and the medical profession are still some way from developing a consensus on how best to treat them.  

From medication to therapy, countless choices are available to those who are diagnosed, but there's one particular type of treatment that most wouldn't think of: stand-up comedy.

An increasing number of comedians are going public with their mental health battles, while many who never considered trying stand-up are finding that their problems can bring laughter to others, and can even help overcome their own issues.

Depression sufferer, trained mental health counsellor and stand-up comic David Granirer runs an organisation that teaches stand-up to people with a variety of issues, from phobias to eating disorders.

Stand Up For Mental Health
David Granirer, a trained counsellor and stand-up comic, teaches stand-up to people with a variety of mental health issues

Using a series of classes, Granirer teaches groups to write jokes, plan routines and develop their material, eventually culminating in a live public show to help his pupils get a feel for the stage.

Granirer's Stand Up For Mental Health group has been working across the US and Canada since 2004, helping people cope with their problems in ways they would never have even imagined.

It all started in one of Granirer's comedy classes in a Vancouver college, when he realised comedy might be able to make a huge difference to people with a whole range of issues.

"One woman had a fear of flying,"Granirer told The Huffington Post UK, "and told me that the day after our showcase she had to get on a plane and said, 'My fear was gone. I felt like once I'd done stand-up I could do anything.'"

Stand Up For Mental Health
David Granirer's Stand Up For Mental Health has been working across the US and Canada since 2004

Granirer explains says the story of comic Robbie Engelquist, shows that for some, stand-up can be an amazingly effective treatment.

"I first met Robbie when he was 21 and had just been discharged after spending five months in hospital... All he did was sit around and watch TV for 14 hours a day and smoke cigarettes, and that’s not recovery.

"But his mum brought him to one of our shows and something in him came alive. Finally there was something he really wanted to do! He had a reason to get up in the morning!"

Granirer adds: "I still keep in touch with him and to this day he says that doing comedy is what gave him the confidence and resilience to move on with his life."

Stand Up For Mental Health
David Granirer teaches stand-up comedy to people with a variety of issues

Granirer believes the key to the programme is the specialist type of therapy it offers.

"In therapy, I’ll have a client talk about a painful situation from the past and I’ll ask, 'What do you wish you’d said?' 'What do you wish you've done?'so they can give voice to the feelings they never got to express, and take control of their story.

"In comedy we do the same thing, the comics will talk about painful things from the past and turn them into comedy and where they tell the audience what they wish they’d been able to do or say.

"So now the comics take control of their stories by putting their own ending on them, and going from victim to victor. I tell the comics, 'You can’t change the past but you can get last laugh and can be just as good,'" Granirer says.

He calls the programme a "super charged support group".

"You get to tell your story to a theatre full of people who are laughing and applauding. And when people laugh at your joke there’s this moment of, 'These people get it, they’re on my side.' 'I just told my deepest darkest secrets to these people and they totally accept me. Maybe I'm not such a bad person after all.'"

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