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Making 'fun' of mental health

New Westminster event shows mental health can be a laughing matter

Royal City resident Janice Bannister is hoping to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness through the Comedy Mental showcase.

Comedy Mental comes with the warning that it "may contain nuts" when eight comics and a headliner take to the stage at Lafflines on Thursday, May 17. Bannister has been helping to prepare her comedy students for their first show, in which the performers have all written their own material about their experiences with mental illness.

"We hope that this event will help close the gap between those who have experienced mental illness and those who haven't," she said.

Bannister, a former psychiatric nurse, has been instructing standup comedy classes at local colleges, schools and at Lafflines through her business Laughter Zone 101.

For the past six years, she has been involved in mental health comedy programs.

"This group is really special. They have really clicked with each other and have been very collaborative and supportive. They have worked really hard to put this show together," she said. "All of the comics have their own comedic story, so the audience will hear funny routines about living with mental illness, dealing with medications, psychiatrists, employers, stigma and misconceptions."

According to Bannister, one in five Canadian adults will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

"When I first started doing these showcases, I would watch the audience, and they would always look around to see if it was OK to laugh at this type of material, but this event is what helps to close the gap between those who have experienced mental illness and those that haven't," she said. "If the person telling you the story has experienced it, and she's laughing, then you know you can laugh."

Members of the group involved in the Comedy Mental showcase have been meeting weekly - and supporting each other and laughing.

"Before starting the comedy classes, I only left my house if it was absolutely necessary, usually something associated with a doctor's appointment," said Suzanne K., one of the students in the class. "Making the effort to attend classes with the goal of laughter in mind changed everything for the better. All of a sudden I had a more positive attitude about everyday life. I was more talkative, I started reaching out to old friends - finally, I had something positive to talk about."

Suzanne said she found herself leaving her apartment to get groceries and taking better care of her physical health because she didn't want to miss a class.

"It made me remember that I used to have a life that didn't centre around fear, anxiety and depression," she said in a press release. "My world had become very small, and suddenly I had something to look forward to and take pride in."

The headlining comic for the show is Melanie Rose, who has bipolar disorder and started doing comedy in a mental health program but has gone on to perform across Canada.

Comedy Mental takes place at Lafflines Comedy Club, 530 Columbia St. on Thursday, May 17. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $15 and available at 604-525-2262 or at www.lafflines.com.

tmcmanus@royalcityrecord.com

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