A ground-breaking comedy program in Canada is helping people break down the stigma surrounding mental illness by proving laughter can be a form of therapy.

Stand Up for Mental Health is a course that teaches those with mental illness the art of stand-up comedy. It was developed by David Granirer, who turned to humour after suffering years of depression.

Granirer said performing stand-up comedy helped him, so he decided to share his skill with others.

“People would come up to me after shows and go, ‘Wow, that was hilarious, that was really funny, I can really relate,’” he said in an interview with CTV News.

During workshops, student comics channel their problems into comedy routines, and then perform their acts at conferences, correctional facilities and on college and university campuses, to name a few.

“You know what the problem with being a paranoid schizophrenic stand-up comic is?” said one student, trying out his material before an audience of peers. “Built-in heckler.”

Granirer says there is healing in the raw humour.

“Getting in front of an audience and telling them all those things that you’ve never told anyone and having them laugh and applaud really diffuses the shame,” Granirer said. “Shame is almost as bad as the illness itself.”

Studies show this method does have therapeutic merit.

“Training in stand-up comedy may help people with mental illness feel better about themselves connect more to other people and reduce stigma,” University of British Columbia’s Dr. Abraham Rudnick told CTV News.

Comic Crystal Asham said she was severely depressed until she started at Stand Up Mental Health workshops a year ago.

“I’m so thankful for this program,” she said. “It’s like group therapy every week.”

With a report from CTV Medical Specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip