Laugh Your Head Shrunk: What's the deal with Mental Health?

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Tuesday November 1, 2011

By Vanessa Purdy

The Newspaper (University of Toronto)

There are certain issues that don’t come up at the dinner table, and mental wellness is definitely one of them. It’s not fun to talk about, but thanks to Laughing Like Crazy, it’s a bit easier to laugh about.

Laughing Like Crazy, a project of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, has taken on the tough task of enabling its students to find the humour in their experiences with mental health issues. LLC has done it a dozen times before, but this year, they are launching a program specifically for youth ages 19-24.  “It’s a time when a lot of people get diagnosed for the first time. One of the great things about these types of programs is that you meet other people that are going through the same things,” explains Emma Árdal, Associate Director of Laughing Like Crazy, the facilitator of the Fall session.

LLC is a 16-week, free program. Part comedy workshop, part peer support group, and it all culminates in a standup comedy showcase, written and performed by the participants themselves.  Árdal, who began in LLC as a participant, speaks to her experiences: “Brining humour to life is so important. It’s life-enhancing, rather than just therapeutic or a response to a problem”.

Certainly, the subject matter is not what you’d hear at the average stand-up bar in Toronto. “You’re not used to seeing people joke about abuse, or suicide—those are pretty heavy, serious topics, and I think its really challenging sometimes for audiences to hear it. But at the same time it shows the resilience of people who can go through some of the darkest stuff and still see a lighter side…” says Árdal. The point of the public showcase isn’t to shock audiences, it’s to open up a dialogue between family and friends, and according to Árdal, these conversations tend towards the positive.

While perhaps laughter really is the best medicine, LLC is not a cure-all, and Árdal stressed the importance of ensuring there is other support in place for the program’s participants.  “I think it makes a really great compliment to other work that people are doing,” she says, “It’s not a solution and we don’t pretend that it is, but it just gives you a different perspective on what you have been dealing with. It’s another tool in the toolbox.” 

About 100 graduates from the Ontario program continue to meet once a month, both maintaining friendships and writing humour. If you are interested in getting involved with the program, visit, and fill out the application form, due November 1st