Using Comedy to Confront Mental Illness and Its Public Stigma

April 20, 2018
David Granirer

For David Granirer, comedy is more than a way to get laughs out of an audience.

As a community college comedy instructor, he noticed how life-changing it could be for someone to take on and conquer the challenge of performing as a stand-up comedian. So, in 2004, Granirer founded Stand Up For Mental Health and began teaching people with mental health issues how to perform stand-up comedy — as a way to help build their confidence as well as reduce public stigma around mental illness. Granirer, who has depression himself, has since taught hundreds of people how to tell their stories through comedy.

Granirer, a certified counselor in Canada, recently received the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada for his work. He has also been named one of 150 Difference Makers in Canadian Mental Health, and received a Life Unlimited Award from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, an Award of Excellence from the National Council for Behavioral Health, and a Champion of Mental Health Award, which recognizes people who have helped advance the mental health agenda in Canada.

On Oct. 25, 2018, he will share his story and perspectives with Psych Congress attendees, as one of the conference’s Featured Speakers. He hopes to bring attendees a mixture of comedy, education, and inspiration. Here, Granirer discusses the path that led him to establish Stand Up For Mental Health, how it helps participants, and his goals and plans for the program.

Q: Can you describe when and how your struggle with mental health issues began?

A: My struggle with mental health issues began when I was about 16 or 17. I was in high school and I actually attempted suicide and ended up in a psychiatric ward for I think about 6-8 weeks.  To me it's amazing—I obviously had depression. Here I am a teenager. I tried to commit suicide, all that kind of stuff, but no one ever caught it. So I wasn't diagnosed until my mid 30s. I went around with untreated, undiagnosed depression for almost 20 years. And then finally in my mid 30s, I was seeing a psychiatrist for therapy and she kept saying, “David, you're depressed.”  And I thought depression was a feeling, so I would say no, “I'm just going through some family issues. I'm not depressed, I'm just sad.” She kept on saying that, so I said “OK fine. I'll try to use the medication that she wants me to take. Nothing will happen, It's just stuff bugging me.”

Well, I went on an antidepressant and all of a sudden it was like “Oh my God, this is what people feel like when they feel good, like people actually want to get out of bed, they actually want to do stuff.” So, to me, it was this huge revelation. Obviously I'm not saying that medication is alright for everyone, but it's certainly alright for me.”