By Michael Robinson


Minds behind the new Laughter is Louder event, an initiative of the PR students’ #headstrong campaign for mental health. Chaniqua Davis, Rachel Herrndorf, Marc Viau, Kat Sent, and Jarred Hather (not shown), show their silly side.

When Monique Simonot’s first aid kit of anti-depressants is unable to fend off the psychic paralysis she lives with every day, she chooses to laugh instead.

For her, the act of smiling beats any pill.

“The brief escape can do wonders,” said the 20-year-old who lives with treatment resistant depression. “Every bit adds up.”

Adding to Simonot’s prescription is Laughter is Louder, a stand-up comedic performance in support of Partners for Mental Health. Its organizers, a group of five Algonquin College public relations students, spearheaded the organization of the event on March 31 at the James Street Pub.

The show’s beneficiary, Partners for Mental Health, is a national charitable organization that is a branch of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The charity, responsible for delivering various mental health awareness campaigns across the country, works to match free resources to Canadians suffering from mental illness.

Jeff Moat, president of Partners for Mental Health, said comedy has been used by many different mental health organizations to help shine a spotlight on the issue of mental illness in society

“Let’s face it, mental illness is highly stigmatized, highly misunderstood and if we can lighten things up and use comedy as a way to engage people in a very serious subject matter then I think it is a very strong technique,” he said. “Not to trivialize the issue but to lighten it up and therefore get more people involved.”

Four Ottawa comedians were featured in the show’s line-up, including Wafik Nasralla, Marc Philippe, Ken Strangway, and Dave McConnell.

For funny-man Marc Philippe, the show’s theme hits home in more ways than one.

“I know too many people who have suffered from depression to friends who have committed suicide,” the former Algonquin student said. “This is a cause near and dear to my heart.”

Bringing the sensitive issue of mental illness into the spotlight in a way that is going to get the most people involved and in a fun way is the key to reducing society’s stigma, said local mental health advocate Alyse Schacter.

“I was so excited to see students organizing such a wonderful event with a focus on mental health,” said Schacter, who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. “My mom would often say to me, ‘We can laugh or we can cry in a tough situation’ and I have tried to choose laughter whenever possible.
“I really believe that events like these bring so much awareness to the issue and help to make people feel more comfortable in exploring the topic.”

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

Engaging others in social settings helps clinically depressed patients recover, indicating that people with more social support have less health problems. The study, published by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that shared laugher as a form of social support is vital for a healthy mood.

For Simonot, trying to find the laughter in a painful situation is a lifelong struggle. But through events such as Laughter is Louder, she knows increased social support will help to redefine the unacceptable stigma that currently exist.

“Science knows a lot more about mental health then it did before, now it’s time to tell society.”