comedians aren’t joking about mental health

Laura O’Mahony: ‘When you become a mom for the first time, you definitely feel overwhelmed and I felt quite isolated’

You only become aware of how important your mental health is when it’s not in a good place. Thankfully, I haven’t come up against anything that has put mine in too much jeopardy but I love opening up the conversation about it. That conversation does need to be based on good sources though. I think sometimes people can jump on the bandwagon and important voices can get lost.

For my own mental health, I try to find joy in the small things. It could be having a cup of tea, going for a short walk, listening to my favorite song. I think that allowing yourself the freedom to be excited about those things is really important.

I also try to take pressure off myself. There’s so much pressure now to be the best at your job, to be the best mother, to burn the candle at both ends. But you need to live the life that’s best for you – not the best life for Instagram.

When you become a mom for the first time, you definitely feel overwhelmed and I felt quite isolated. All of a sudden, going to the shop is so difficult, putting petrol in your car is complicated, there are so many logistics and a lot of panic. I was delighted when I had both of my children but life became so different so suddenly and I had to learn how to cope with that. I had to use my voice and ask for help.

You can also feel very vulnerable as a comedian, especially when doing stand up. You question yourself a lot and it’s hard not to beat yourself up, especially when the odd toxic message comes in saying that you’re rubbish. You really have to learn to be strong. If I’m having a day where I don’t feel like great craic then I won’t go online and if I’m performing and a joke doesn’t land, I try to look at the bigger picture.

Tara Flynn: ‘I was not one bit OK during the pandemic. I did need to seek medical help’

Tara Flynn: 'No' is a full sentence.  Picture: Marc O’Sullivan.
Tara Flynn: ‘No’ is a full sentence. Picture: Marc O’Sullivan.

For me, good mental health means peace. It means no chatter in my brain, being able to sleep, and having enough resources to deal with the knocks.

There’s still a stigma about not being at the peak of mental health and there’s still shame in asking for help, even though it’s something you can go to your GP about – which I don’t think a lot of people realize. If I’m feeling very low I will see my GP and I’ve been very lucky to have had access to therapy in the past as well.

On a day-to-day level, I’m also setting much better boundaries now than I used to. I’m saying no if I’m overstretched. You don’t need to disclose how you’re feeling to everyone, but you can tell a pal if you’re too overwhelmed to go to their party. There’s nothing wrong with that. As my dear friend Marian Keyes says, “no” is a full sentence.

I went through a difficult patch following the Repeal the Eighth campaign and I was also not one bit OK during the pandemic. I did need to seek medical help. I had to sit with my thoughts and confront what was going on. We talk about tackling mental health but I think sometimes you can feel so unwell and so low that you need to just be there. It can be frightening but it usually does pass. If it doesn’t, it’s so important to ask for help.

That can be hard, it can be very difficult to access services in Ireland, but it’s a start. People often can’t handle it on their own and they shouldn’t feel like they have to.

Karl Spain: ‘Talking with my partner was key – it helped me to stay calm’

Karl Spain: check in with people around you
Karl Spain: check in with people around you

People I would never have thought had difficulties have spoken to me about their mental health. People with an exterior of strength and calm and control. It just goes to show how important it is to talk and to check in with the people around you.

As for myself, I think I bottle things up. In April 2020, I started to get very stressed about the pandemic. We didn’t have our gigs and the main part of being a comedian is travelling. I kept busy but it just went on and on and it was a struggle. I talked about things with my partner though which I think was a key thing. It helped me to stay calm and the level of stress started to lower as time went on. It actually ended up being positive in terms of getting to spend more time with my partner.

Apart from the pandemic, I have gone through a difficult patch in terms of grievance. The one time it impacted my career was after my mother died in 2003. The following year I was in Australia doing shows and they weren’t great and I just didn’t care. One time, I was five minutes into a show and I saw that the table in front of me had ordered food while I was performing and they were all talking and I felt so irrelevant. I thought: they don’t care, so why should I? There were a couple of months like that and I realized afterwards that I was still grieving.

I think there is a cliché of the sad clown when it comes to comedians. I feel like people think that because we’re the ones who make people laugh, we must be dying inside. It used to annoy me, but then when Robin Williams died, that really hit home. There’s obviously a truth in there but I don’t think we’re predisposed to be depressed. I love to brighten up people’s days, even though you mightn’t always feel like it.

Neil Delamere: ‘I cannot say this often enough, dogs should be available on prescription’

Neil Delamere: prescription dogs, anyone?
Neil Delamere: prescription dogs, anyone?

I think most people have become more aware of the importance of their mental health. The pandemic certainly threw things up in the air and forced people in the entertainment industry to see what life would be like if they suddenly couldn’t do their job for 18 months. I have a job that has great highs and lows so some degree of perspective is good to maintain.

I used to have a slot on the radio with a brilliant psychologist named Niamh Fitzpatrick and a lot of the advice she gave listeners stayed with me. She would often emphasize the importance of self-care. It’s very difficult to even try to address external issues in your life if you’re not looking after yourself. I try to get a decent amount of sleep, exercise regularly, and get out and about in the great outdoors.

Also, and I cannot say this often enough, dogs should be available on prescription. The unconditional love they give and the routine they demand are nourishment for the soul. A harrier hound called Mick and a three-legged lurcher called Lola are what got me through the pandemic.

When I’ve gone through other difficult patches, I talked to the people in my life I trust and we got each other through. I also watched a lot of 30Rock. I think as Irish people, we use humor to find balance in our lives. Maybe it’s our way of processing things. My mother used to say ‘if you didn’t laugh you’d cry’ and there’s a lot of truth to it.

I’m not even sure the humor itself is the point. By its nature, humor is communal. Jokes need to be shared with others and I think that is the real benefit, being in the company of other people.

Fred Cooke: ‘I try to give myself ten minutes at the start of every day to do some breathing techniques’

Fred Cooke: brings happiness into his life with childhood joys.  Pic: Dominick Walsh
Fred Cooke: brings happiness into his life with childhood joys. Pic: Dominick Walsh

It’s so great that people are talking about mental health but I think we still have more to talk about. Depression is something that doesn’t go away, it always has to be dealt with.

I try to give myself ten minutes at the start of every day to do some breathing techniques and ease myself into the day. Tommy Tiernan also once said to do something that you liked as a child to bring happiness into your adulthood, and for me, that’s listening to my ’90s records. I think it’s why I do comedy as well actually. I laughed so much as a child. Stand-up is a natural form of therapy for me. It’s so cathartic.

I try not to depend on it either though because it can have its own stresses. When I was younger I spread myself too thin. I was seeking validation from strangers by trying to make them laugh. I associated it with popularity. Looking back, I wish I had these breathing techniques that I have now and was as calm as I am now. I wish I loved myself more.

I never sought professional help, maybe I should have, but I talked to friends. I’m so lucky to have the friends that I have. We’ve been friends since I was seven years old and they’ve never neglected me.

I’m also so blessed with an amazing wife and child now as well. I found out I was becoming a dad one month before Covid hit and that was so all-encompassing. It was tough trying to bring your first child into the world during a pandemic. It ate some sleep but we’re all good now.


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