Click here to see the original story in the Ubyssey
BY FABIOLA CARLETTI
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 8TH, 2009
Nearly 500 people attended the two Stand Up for Mental Health comedy shows on Monday at Frederick Wood Theatre and the Totem Park Ballroom. The campus comedy day coincided with National Mental Illness Awareness Week, a campaign that aims to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Karine St-Jean stood before the microphone clutching her cue cards. Most of the audience wasn’t much older than her, and many without seats sat close by and cross-legged on the floor. The 16-year-old comic wore heart-shaped earrings, which framed her cherub cheeks, and a bright yellow shirt.
“I took this anger management class and they told us to do the square–breathing technique when we get angry,” she said. “That really pissed me off.”
The crowd erupted in laughter, showing support for St-Jean and the other comedians that highlighted the humour in a diverse list of mental illnesses.
Mental illness directly affects 20 per cent of Canadians and indirectly affects all Canadians at some point through a family member, colleague or friend, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Depression, seasonal affective disorder and anxiety all rank within the top seven most common health conditions on UBC campus, according to 2008 data from the UBC Wellness Centre. Stand Up for Mental Health aims to encourage dialogue around such numbers.
David Granirer launched the program to demonstrate that humour can be a powerful form of therapy for the participants and a taboo-buster for the general public. Since 2004 he has taught other people with mental illness how to get behind a microphone, speak their truths and inspire laughter in themselves and others.
“It just opens up a whole conversation for people,” said Granirer. “If we can get [students] talking about it now, that’s a huge step forward.”
Granirer copes with his own depression through medication, comedy and community service. His ten-year-old son, Jonathan Granirer, was a favoured performer at the event.
“When I first heard my dad had a mental illness, I thought ‘how could someone so weird get any weirder?’” said the young Granirer, who ended his cheeky routine with a “but seriously, folks,” asking that people stop fearing those with mental illness and instead give them the support they need.
The problem is often invisible. One grad student that attended the show—who asked not to be identified—privately deals with generalized anxiety disorder.
“Though I was accepted, it was impossible for me to go to Oxford,” she said softly. “And even now I want to be able to tell my supervisor things like ‘I didn’t do the reading last night because I had a panic attack.’”
The student said that she admired the comedians for their bravery.
“It’s refreshing that others could get up there without shame and self-pity.”
In 2010, the comedy group will be contributing to the second-year curriculum for UBC medical students, explaining to future physicians the importance of empathy and of respectfully asking the questions that identify and help treat mental illness.
Here’s a bit of the CBC Doc about Stand Up for Mental Health. It’s called “Cracking Up”