Stand Up For Mental Health
Carla White, local author and speaker, had the crowd roaring in laughter as she sipped from her giant wine glass sharing stories about raising her kids while struggling with symptoms of depression: “There were bottles, crying and time outs…some of that was even for the kids!” She graced the stage of the Keyano theatre on the evening of October 10th, World Mental Health day, with 5 other locals turned comedians. SOS warmly welcomed David Granier, founder of Stand Up for Mental Health to the community to support local funnies in braving the stage of the Keyano recital theatre, to share their stories of laughter and to shed light on the taboo topic of mental health.
“We use comedy to give mental health consumers a powerful voice and help reduce the stigma and discrimination around mental illness,” says Granier. “The idea is that laughing at our setbacks raises us above them. It makes people go from despair to hope, and hope is crucial to anyone struggling with adversity. Studies prove that hopeful people are more resilient and also tend to live longer, healthier lives.”
Stand Up for Mental Health, a course assisting mental health consumers to turn their problems into stand-up comedy was brought to the community by Some Other Solutions. The agency, whose mandate is to support hope, healing, and wellbeing, aims to increase supports related to mental health services and awareness. SOS provides the community with a 24 hour crisis line, suicide prevention and intervention services, grief and loss support, in school mentoring, and the Community Helpers program. SOS staff recruited locals with an interest in decreasing the stigma related to mental illness by sharing their own experience. Comedian Naja noted “I know that lots of people are suffering in silence. Many of us deny it or hide it as we are afraid of being judged”. Naja did not hide as she was embraced by the audience, dancing onstage to Mary Lambert’s catchy song, Secrets.
Comedians worked together on their acts for 6 weeks, with 1:1 telephone and skype coaching from David to perfect their timing and learning how to own the stage. David has lead Stand Up for Mental Health groups around the world, and was excited to visit Fort McMurray. Local comedian Kelly knew she needed to take part when she learned of the program both in her home province of BC and here in Fort McMurray. She wasn’t able to take part in BC but expressed that “it was fate” that she joined the team here in Fort McMurray.
Neil Fiander, the pro comic of the group, took David under his wing and introduced him to local attractions, including his regular stand up post at Baileys Pub, and local media who were great promoters of the event, and who helped fill theatre seats. After this one of a kind Stand Up comedy show, Neil noted “Doing comedy is usually a fight to win a crowed over, but in this case they were loving it off the hop. SOS did a wonderful job putting everything together”.
To start the evening off, Comedian Alex shared his struggle with social anxiety, joking that he gets nervous in situations where there are a lot of people. He joked, “Naturally, here I am”, as he was the first to grace the stage. Another comedian, Erica, shared that even when she was most depressed, suicide was not something she worried about. She joked that death by the Keyano Gala’s infamous “lobster ravioli” was more her style.
Some Other Solutions staff offered the community a night of laughter and fun, while supporting those in our community who struggle with issues related to mental illness. Prints of the late Robin Williams, painted by local artist and SOS friend, Russell Thomas, were sold with proceeds further supporting mental health services and suicide prevention work at SOS. Funds raised by the sale of the original painting were graciously donated by Thomas in support of the Stand Up for Mental Health event. SOS Support and Wellness counselor, Janene Hickman, thanked those in attendance for their support and generosity which helped to make the event a huge success. “SOS hopes to this again, perhaps making this an annual event”, allowing more individuals in our community to benefit from the program and share their stories. said Hickman. One in five Canadians will experience issues related to mental illness or substance abuse in their lifetime. Each year, upwards of 4000 Canadians die by suicide. As a community, we cannot ignore these figures and events like Stand Up for Mental Health provide an opportunity for learning, support, and entertainment.
Recruitment and planning for the 2nd annual Stand Up for Mental Health event will begin in late summer. Those interested in taking part can contact the SOS office at 780-743-8605.