David Granirer’s comedy training for the mentally ill is proving to be a hit.
When David Granirer stood before medical students at the Vancouver General Hospital, explaining his alternative to traditional forms of therapy, his audience laughed at him.
Just as he’d hoped they would.
Granirer has developed a comedy workshop for people living with mental illness, which he’s dubbed Stand Up For Mental Health (SMH).
He runs weekly classes that bring together people with an array of mental health diagnoses such as bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Over the course of a year, he helps his students develop stand-up comedy routines for live audiences.
Six years after thinking this approach might help people better manage mental illness, his program is so popular that he has to turn away aspiring comics.
When he addressed the medical students, who are enrolled at UBC, UVIC and UNBC, Granirer knew there might be skeptics in the crowd. He blended serious and humorous points, screened performance clips, and invited a few comedians to partake in small discussion groups after the lecture. The event was part of a pilot project, which aims to give tomorrow’s doctors a greater understanding of — and empathy for — people with mental illness.
We often say laughter is the best medicine, but nowhere in the system do we say, ‘You’ve got a great sense of humour… let’s see what we can do with that,’” said Granirer, who is experienced at both stand-up comedy and depression.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians is directly affected by mental illness at some point in their lives. Indirectly, every Canadian is affected through a family member, colleague or friend.
“There are many myths about mental illness. Until people learn the truth, they will continue to deny that mental illness exists or avoid the topic entirely,” states CMHA’s website.
A personal knowledge of depression
Granirer hasn’t always enjoyed visiting hospitals and talking to doctors.
Although his silly facial expressions and lively gestures may not suggest it, Granirer was diagnosed with depression in his mid-thirties. He believes the condition began sometime during his teen years. In those days, he said he felt an incredible sense of shame and worthlessness, and would even cross streets to avoid people he knew.