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Comedy course for men at risk of suicide

Words by Smiley Team

A course teaching men at risk of suicide to become stand-up comedians has been awarded NHS funding for across the country.

Comedy on Referral is being socially prescribed by both NHS trusts and private practices to vulnerable men struggling with their mental health.

“I’ve taught comedy for 10 years, and students often told me how much stronger, more resilient and happier they were after exploring their personal histories through standup comedy,” said Angie Belcher, founder of Comedy on Referral.

“That inspired me to prove that the models, exercises and games used in a standup comedy course can help people to recover from emotional problems such as mental illness, postnatal depression, PTSD and anxiety disorders.”

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Stand-up comedy is listed in 90% of people’s biggest fears, but tackling that fear is proving to be useful to those dealing with trauma or other struggles.

After completing a six-week NHS course for trauma survivors in Bristol, Comedy on Referral has now won NHS funding to help men in London. Angie also hopes to extend the course to young people with autism and ADHD at some point soon.

“My course for trauma victims encourages them to process their trauma in a different way, so they can change who the victim is and choose the narrative. They can actually go right down into ‘This is what I was thinking and then this thing happened to me’," she said.

“This enables survivors to consciously use comedy to change their perspective of their experiences, but it also puts them in a physically powerful position because being on stage is very powerful.

“You can speak directly to an audience about important things, which means you have the opportunity to change their lives.”

'We've never done anything like this before'

The comedy course takes clients referred by the social prescribing team through the writing, performance and analysis of their personal stories to create a five-minute standup comedy set.

Angie will work alongside psychologists and men who have experienced suicidal thoughts, to help up to 20 men over 18 years of age to take part in a comedy event at the end of the course for an audience of at least 100 people.

“We’ve never done anything like this before and we’re very excited about it because we’re hoping it will reach men who, even though they’ve been diagnosed as at high risk of suicide, don’t think they have an issue and so won’t go to counselling or attend anything signposted ‘suicide prevention’,” said Lourdes Colclough, head of suicide prevention at Rethink Mental Illness.

“This is a different way of engaging with this hard-to-reach group.”

Inspired to act?

Here are six UK-based organisations working to help people with their mental health. Support their work by following the links below.


This charity takes a forward-thinking approach, helping people with their mental health in the long term. To do this their staff link individuals with other services that will help them rebuild their lives and overcome circumstantial challenges.



Mind is one of the largest mental health charities in the UK, helping people by distributing resources and advice.


Heads Together

Co-ordinated by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Heads Together is a campaign for better awareness about mental health issues.


Mental Health UK

Mental Health UK delivers support, services and advice for people struggling with mental health challenges across the country.


Young Minds

Dedicated to supporting young people and their parents, Young Minds offers advice, resources and campaigns to build awareness about mental health.



Run by people facing mental health challenges, Rethink helps people with expert advice, information, training, and 90 different services. They also campaign for broader change.


This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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