Laughter’s the best medicine

Mental health agency’s annual comedy show underway

By Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Contributor

The comedians who took the stage at last year’s show. This year’s event is free and guests are being asked to bring a donation for the Wood Buffalo Food Bank.

The comedians who took the stage at last year’s show. This year’s event is free and guests are being asked to bring a donation for the Wood Buffalo Food Bank.

Something – somewhere – was wrong, but Shauna MacKinnon couldn’t put a finger on it. Not until her late 20s when she was diagnosed with clinical depression. And, on September 30, 2016, she will talk about defeating her mental illness with a healthy dose of laughter for the third annual Stand up for Mental Health event at Keyano’s Recital Theatre.

Hosted by Some Other Solutions (SOS), a local crisis prevention agency, Stand Up for Mental Health will see local residents take the stage, along with MacKinnon, who is well-known as MIX 103.7 radio station’s news reporter/anchor.

“Many times in my career in radio, people have told me upon first meeting me, they envisioned someone in diamonds and pearls or in a business suit or in some such outfit that exuded confidence and self-assurance. Much like the theme of Shakespeare’s plays though, nothing is at appears. Many of us sound or look perfectly fine, but if the outside world had a sneak peek at the inner workings of our minds, it would discover absolute chaos. As a child I remember being terrified my parents and teachers would find out I wasn’t as smart as they thought I was. Even straight A report cards wouldn’t set my mind at rest, I was convinced others would find out my secret,” recalls MacKinnon.

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MIX 103.7’s Shauna MacKinnon will be returning to the comedian stage for the third annual Stand Up for Mental Health at Keyano’s Recital Theatre on September 30. Supplied photos

“When I was 21, I learned there was a clinical name for this feeling and that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Suddenly, I felt better about myself. In my late 20s I was diagnosed as having clinical depression. A few sessions with a psychologist, medication, and a wonderful self-help book had me on the road to recovery in about five weeks. I have rarely found myself slipping into that depression since my initial diagnosis, but I still have days which are harder to get through than others. That’s life. And a great part of life is sharing experiences.”

It was this idea of shared experiences that drew her to Stand Up for Mental Health.

“I have inherited some great traits from my parents, including a wicked sense of humour (I think) and when I saw the first comics perform in Fort McMurray I thought, that could be me. I’ve been where some other people have been and I’ve survived, even prospered. I’ve learned from my experiences and can share that with others. I joked about my experiences with depression, my diagnosis of MS (50 per cent of those with MS also have depression) and dating as a 50-something year old woman in Fort McMurray.”

 

 

In the process of writing new material, MacKinnon says most of it will focus on dealing with the stress of wildfires and evacuation. Then there’s the part about “dating as a 50-something year old woman in Fort McMurray; because some things never change.”

Sharing on why she’s returning this year, she noted, “It was a wonderful evening of laughter, sharing, and hugs with my fellow comics and audience members. So I’m going to do it again! I need this as much as the audience. Laughter is therapeutic. Sharing your experiences with others is therapeutic. Imagine what combining the two will do for us. Now, more than ever, mental health is top of mind for all of us in the RMWB. And so it should be. We’ve been through an enormous, devastating event. And we need to learn how to deal with the after-effects.”
Erica Moeskau, Account Manager for Country 93.3 and 97.9 ROCK agrees. She was onstage for the inaugural event, and is excited to return.

“I got involved after speaking with Janene (from SOS) when she came into the radio station for an interview. I am a huge fan of stand-up comedy so I jumped at the opportunity to participate. I have also always been a big advocate about speaking out about my personal experience with depression and anxiety with others in hopes of normalizing it and encouraging change. We are all wired differently and sometimes people just need to know that they are not alone and it’s ok to ask for support,” said Moeskau.

For Angela Betts, who will also return to the stage for this edition of Stand up for Mental Health – growing up with undiagnosed depression and bi-polar disorder was very challenging. She recalls feeling “alone and often seen as a burden to my family.”

“It’s important to raise awareness for mental health so we are able to empower ourselves with knowledge and compassion so the darkness so many of us face is as short lived as possible. Laughter and my ability to find humour in the darkest moments saved my life. I hope to let people know that together we can make it through to the other side, one moment at a time,” Betts explained.

Dubbing it a night of “fun and laughter while shedding some light on the topic of mental health,” Janene Hickman, Support and Wellness Counsellor for SOS notes, the “group of comedians worked together to develop their routine and share their experiences and support each other. The program helps locals develop lasting connections and allows them to develop a new tool for ongoing recovery and wellness.”

Open to all ages, the show, which is also a mental health course, will have five alumni comedians along with course organizer/trainer David Granirer share experiences with “common mental health issues like depression and anxiety. They will also share experiences with mental health professionals and medication. We’ll shed some light on the topic of suicide. Comics will also share some of their experiences relating to the wildfires that impacted our community. We hope this format will open discussions about mental health issues and challenges experienced by many with the wildfires and getting support in the aftermath,” explained Hickman.

“Next year, we will be looking for fresh faces to participate. Anyone who has had some experience with mental health and who is willing to talk about it are great candidates. They will need to commit to taking part in group and one on one training sessions that start in mid- August. Please contact Janene at SOS 780-743-8605 (Ext. 7) to get your name on the list for next year.”

“Mental illness impacts one in three Canadians. Many more struggle in silence, perhaps uncertain about seeking support or fearful of being judged by others. We hope this show will help to normalize mental health issues, and show community members that recovery is possible. Laughter has long been recognized as ‘the best medicine’ and we feel this show is powerful and empowering. We recognize the hard work of all of the ‘helpers’ in our community and remind them that taking care of themselves allows them to take care of others. We hope they see the show as an opportunity to take a night for themselves and hope they get their free tickets! Making time for fun in our lives is especially important as our community works hard to rebuild,” Hickman said.

While the show is free, guests are requested to bring a non-perishable donation to the Wood Buffalo Food Bank. Visit someothersolutions.ca for more information, or call the office at 780-743-8605.

– Connect Weekly –