It’s not often that people are encouraged to make light of mental health concerns, but participants in the LGBTQ Laughing Like Crazy workshop will do just that.
During the 16-week program, peer facilitators will help participants formulate jokes and put together comedy routines based on whatever they choose, and this can include their mental health concerns. No previous experience in comedy is necessary, and no prescription or diagnosis is required to participate.
“It’s incredibly empowering,” says Cindy Bloomberg, lead facilitator of the workshop. “It breaks down your isolation and your anxiety and it reduces stigma.”
“We don’t talk about [mental illness] — there’s shame . . . and if you take it out of there and make it funny and bring people into your world the stigma breaks down.”
The workshop will begin with a compulsory information session on Thursday, Feb 11, 2016. The group then meets every Thursday until May 26. Those who have completed the program — the graduating class — perform their routines at a public showcase on June 2.
Participants may invite friends and family to attend the showcase at the YMCA at 20 Grosvenor St. “It’s a huge thing to stand in front of 300 people,” Bloomberg says. “But you’re fully prepared to stand up there and deliver your set when the time comes.”
“It’s very educational for the audience as well — you’ve changed their viewpoint . . . and there are funny things about being hospitalized or having attempted suicide,” she says. “You wouldn’t think that’d be funny, but if the comic can find the comedy in it then they’re inviting you to laugh as well.”
The program is run by The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (MDAO), which offers free programs and resources to people in Ontario living with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. This is the first time the organization is offering a queer-focused version of Laughing Like Crazy.
While queer people are welcome at the general Laughing Like Crazy, some may prefer a version made specifically for them. Bloomberg, who identifies as lesbian, says that it will be a draw that the classes are taking place at The 519, Toronto’s LGBT community centre, rather than MDAO’s office at Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue.
“It can be challenging to come to a group, and if somebody might feel more comfortable staying within their community we’d like to offer that,” Bloomberg says. “There’s a comfort level for people to go to The 519.”
MDAO is also offering a queer version of its Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) for the first time. Participants in this eight-week workshop will meet as a group and design plans for dealing with their mental health issues in practical, day-to-day terms.
“A lot of people, when they’re in a bad place, have a hard time identifying what or who would be helpful,” says Jason Webster, who will co-facilitate LGBTQ WRAP with Kate Welsh. “You make a plan so that when you’re not doing well you can look at it and see things you’ve identified as things that make you feel better.”
These solutions can be just about anything — from counselling to a picnic — and the facilitators will bring in various resources to help generate ideas. “[We’ll] include materials more specific to LGBTQ people,” Webster says. “Such as [information about] LGBTQ community centres, mental health services and sports organizations.”
Webster, along with Andrew Kcomt and Robin Simmons, also facilitates MDAO’s LGBTQ Drop-In group. In early 2015, the group increased in frequency from monthly to twice-monthly, and now meets on the first and third Wednesday.