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Mental Health Day 2021 – Interview with SMH Comic Mal Henderson
For this year’s Mental Health Day, we’re kicking off a monthly blog series interviewing comics who have been through the SMH program. We’ll be talking with comics about mental health, why they love SMH, and how it impacted their lives.
First up, we have Mal Henderson. Mal was part of SMH’s Winter 2021 Program, and since the program ended, has joined SMH’s Board of Directors. “When I first started SMH, in terms of payment, I thought I could actually pay a reasonable amount, but it turns out my budgeting skills are not great. So now the joke is that I’m David’s indentured servant”
One of the great things about SMH is that no one is ever turned away based on their financial situation. Which, as anyone who has ever sought support of their mental health knows, is a god-send. A quick Internet search shows that therapy can cost anywhere between $50-$240 per hour, with the typical range falling somewhere around $150/hour. This is simply out of reach for most people. Further to this, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, “Individuals with severe and prolonged mental illnesses have historically had a tenuous or episodic attachment to the paid labour force. Those who work typically earn low or modest wages, often in unsecure jobs, and frequently have nowhere to turn but to welfare for support,” meaning that those who need services the most will be less likely to be able to afford them.
But accessibility is just one of the many unique pieces of the StandUp for Mental Health Program. “What took me by surprise in a positive way was the collaborative nature of [the program]. You don’t always have the frame of mind to make your jokes the best that they can be. And it’s so nice to bounce ideas off of other people, and to get input to help turn them into finished jokes. I really enjoyed that. I enjoyed having a group of people who had had similar experiences to me in terms of mental health challenges, who all just goof around and find the funny stuff in all of the terror and lies”.
Mal found the program destigmatizing and empowering in a way that other mental health support programs hadn’t been. “Some of this stuff [we talk about] is really dark, and I really love that I was encouraged to find a way to express that in a humorous manner. But we didn’t shy away from anything. And that is great, because then it isn’t a dark little secret. It’s like ‘oh hey, this is part of my life and we can talk about it now’.”
As part of Mal’s SMH set in July 2021, they have a joke about suicide, likening an old suicide plan to a plan for a kitchen reno stating, “why would I make a new plan if I have a perfectly good one that I never used.” And it was met with uproarious laughter. There are few places where we can bring levity to conversations like this, and SMH is one of those places.
Mal found that the program helped them to see these experiences as just experiences, like any other. And also helped them to see how humour can normalize mental health issues, and make them more relatable and discussable.
When asked what they would say to someone asking why they should support SMH, Mal said this:
- We’re hilarious.
- We need more of this. We need more mental health supports. People have a tendency to see mental illness in an ‘us and them’ kind of way. I’m healthy, they’re not. We need to normalize mental illness, so that people who might be starting to struggle will develop an awareness and seek help earlier. Anyone can develop a mental illness, and it’s not a death sentence. Programs like SMH help to develop that awareness. They can help you to get back on your feet, and you know, learn to tell jokes, and make people laugh, and feel like a superhero.