Standup comedy course helps support men at risk of suicide | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: July 19, 2024

Here at The Optimist Daily, we believe wholeheartedly in the power of healing through laughter, joy, and a positive outlook—and it seems as though the UK National Health Service (NHS) is on the same page.

Mental health problems are on the rise for people of all ages and walks of life, and as much as we want to support our struggling loved ones, some groups are more difficult to reach than others. Men, for instance, are the least likely to seek help for or even acknowledge a mental health problem, making them particularly hard to support.

Comedy on Referral

A new UK-based standup comedy program called Comedy On Referral is proving to be an effective tool for helping the most vulnerable individuals across the nation, as is now being socially prescribed by NHS trusts and private practices.

“I’ve taught comedy for 10 years, and students often told me how much stronger, more resilient, and happier they were after exploring their personal histories through standup comedy,” says comedian-in-residence at Bristol University and the founder of Comedy on Referral Angie Blecher.

“That inspired me to prove that the models, exercises, and games used in a standup comedy course can help people to recover from emotional problems such as mental illness, postnatal depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorders,” she adds.

How it started

The program was first piloted in a six-week NHS course for trauma survivors in Bristol. After the remarkably successful pilot, Comedy on Referral has earned itself NHS funding to help men at risk of suicide in London. Belcher is also discussing the possibility of extending the course to a private practice that will be implemented for young people with autism and ADHD.

“My course for trauma victims encourages them to process their trauma in a different way, so they can change who the victim is and choose the narrative,” Belcher says. She goes on to explain how the shift in perspective and the position of authority the stage lends the participants of the course allows for empowerment and a boost in mental health.

To help navigate the fine line between telling personal stories and triggering former traumas, there are psychologists present to support participants during their introduction to therapeutic writing techniques. Local services, general practitioners, and Samaritans are also involved throughout the course.

Next steps

The initial pilot was the result of a year-long research project on the effects of comedy as a therapeutic tool. Belcher recently won a grant from the North West London Integrated Care System (NS London ICS). She will work to expand the course with the help of psychologists and men who have experienced suicidal events. The end result will be a program for up to 20 men aged 18 and over, ending with a comedy event for an audience of at least 100 people.

“We’ve never done anything like this before and we’re very excited about it because we’re hoping it will reach men who, even though they’ve been diagnosed as at high risk of suicide, don’t think they have an issue and so won’t go to counseling or attending anything signposted ‘suicide prevention,’” said Lourdes Colclough, head of suicide prevention at Rethink Mental Illness. “This is a different way of engaging with this hard-to-reach group.”

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