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Is mental illness a laughing matter? Meet the therapist who thinks it can be

PUBLISHED: 10:41 28 September 2019 | UPDATED: 14:23 30 September 2019

Helen Simpson, a therapist who says comedy can help with mental health. Pic: Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

Helen Simpson, a therapist who says comedy can help with mental health. Pic: Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

A therapist from Norwich is planning an innovative way to raise awareness of mental health issues on World Mental Health Day - including comedy about her own illness.

Helen Simpson is a cognitive behavioural therapist at The Anchorage in the Julian Hospital in Norwich, but is also a stand-up comedian.

She is organising an evening of entertainment at the Octagon Chapel in Colegate, Norwich, on Thursday, October 10 called 'Mad Pride In A Crazy World'.

It will involve comedians, poets and musicians performing works about or inspired by their own experiences of mental illness.

Ms Simpson, who works for Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, will do stand-up about her own mental illness, which includes anxiety and depression.

She said: "Events to mark World Mental Health Day tend to be more information-giving and take place in daytime, but I wanted to do something that was more fun and entertaining.

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"It will be an evening with the feel of Mad Pride, the mass movement of mental health service users, past and present, who are proud of their 'mad' identity.

"For me, comedy is in some ways like cognitive behavioural therapy. In both cases you are taking your experiences and thoughts and changing them.

"During my set, I'll be talking about my own lived experience of mental illness, how CBT has taught me to overcome my fear of hugging and my new invention, the 'crush helmet' which stops me having inappropriate crushes. So far, it has been 100% effective!"

Ms Simpson, 52, who also has multiple sclerosis, has worked for NSFT and predecessor organisations for about 30 years but only became involved in comedy about two years ago.

She said: "I use every experience to write comedy.

"Last year, I went on a mindfulness retreat for work and the beds were really lumpy but the organisers suggested we 'be with the discomfort'. This started me off with a new comedy sketch."

Other acts will include comedian Aaron Hood, comedian Clayton Harrison, poets Saint Ananda and Flora Wheeler, Bungay singer-songwriter Lisa Jane and Norwich singer-songwriter Sue Tebble.

The event will start at 7pm, with tickets available on the door for £5 each.

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