The Trinity College Mental Health Institute has a goal of reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. As a U of T organization working towards this goal, TCMHI strives to increase awareness of mental health issues and develop a dialogue with students in a safe and trustworthy environment.

In partnership with Stand Up for Mental Health, a society of performers who use comedy as an outlet for their personal experiences with mental illness, TCMHI furthered theircause with a stand-up comedy show last Wednesday night. The show was an opportunity to discuss mental illness in a relaxed environment.

The show featured performances by Stand Up For Mental Health, where comedians bravely satirized their insecurities with the purpose of raising awareness and inspiring laughter. At the start of the show, one comedian explained that performing stand-up comedy allows them to rise above their setbacks and gain positive feedback through laughter. The strength and positivity in each performance was undeniably an inspiration.

The evening was led by Allan Strong, a team leader for the Self Help Alliance in Guelph, Kitchener, and Cambridge. Right away, Strong informed the audience of his bipolar II diagnosis, followed by several jokes at his own expense. He enthusiastically mediated the performances with his own short stand-up routines and engaged the audience by prompting them to clap and holler at his jokes. Strong’s sharp and lively stage presence was perfect to uplift the atmosphere of the show.

Acts discussed topics of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and Asperger’s syndrome. Performers varied from young to old, but each conveyed a unique perspective on the way mental health influences their lives. One performer spoke about her experience raising children with mental illnesses. Her act offered a point of view that often goes unrecognized when discussing mental health. Throughout her comedic routine, she shared a glimpse into her role supporting and loving her children regardless of their internal struggles.

Comedy behaves as an icebreaker that crumbles the barriers of social stigma and opens the floor to discussion. With humour, topics become approachable, regardless of their seriousness. TCMHI’s show fulfilled their initiative to start a dialogue about mental health. The show sparked a discourse about serious topics and resulted in an audience that supported the performers’ struggles through shared laughter.

“By doing comedy we can open the doors to a different kind of conversation,” Strong commented at the end of the show. “I want to applaud Trinity College for expanding this conversation tonight.”

TCMHI hit the mark with their decision to use comedy as an outlet for raising awareness. Laughing off our insecurities helps us grow beyond them and ultimately diminishes the stigma surrounding mental illness. Comedy is a unique form of entertainment because it engages the audience in a shared joke that makes the process of absorbing and understanding a topic much easier. With all the workshops and lectures targeted to raising awareness on mental illness, none are able to address the issue quite like collective laughter.