Mental Illness: Why Can't We Laugh About It?

August 2, 2011 Natasha Tracy

If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style.
Quentin Crisp

I think this quote is funny. It made me smile. So I posted it on Facebook and Twitter. People didn't seem to like that. People seemed to think it was a general statement of affairs and there was something wrong with it because it wasn't "positive." It wasn't "recovery focused."

But seriously, why is everything a serious statement on serious issues? Why is everything about our lives and our recovery and our mental illness?

Why can't we just laugh at ourselves?

If at first you don't succeed, skydiving may not be for you.

All skydivers know this joke. All skydivers know people get injured in their sport. All skydivers know people get killed in their sport. Skydivers are able to laugh about it anyway. (I can't even tell you about the golf-skydiving joke, but trust me, it's worse, and still funny.)

Manic Panic

Mania is a very serious part of bipolar and other disorders. It can be life-threatening actually. It's nothing to take lightly.

But there's a hair dye called "Manic Panic," and seriously, I'm OK with that. I'm pretty sure the hair dye people aren't making a statement about mental illness.

Humor is Healthy

You can't be serious all the time. Or you can, but I doubt it'll help your depression much.

Some people fundamentally get this. Like:

Humor is great medicine. It's free. And there are no side effects.

Humor and Mental Illness

Life is funny. Kids are funny. Pets are funny.

Mental illness is funny.

Yes, it's true, mental illness is impossible, devastating, painful, frightening, life-rending and many other things. But it's funny too. And there's no reason to take every moment of it so seriously.

A funny quote about skydiving doesn't mean I want skydivers to die and a funny quote on failure isn't about me failing or about even failure in general. It's just about a laugh.

So please, released the death-grip on serious issues and devastating consequences for a few seconds and just enjoy a lark. No one will get hurt; I promise. And you know, you might just feel better.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, August 2). Mental Illness: Why Can't We Laugh About It?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Day After Day After Day...
July, 29 2016 at 6:14 pm

It's very depressing being around people who constantly dwell on the negative...
After Tuesday even the calendar goes "W T F".
If you always do what you always did you'll always get what you always got. NOWHERE!
Medication alone will not solve all your problems.
Do you truly want to get well? If your answer is yes, then what might you do differently, starting from this very moment?

December, 26 2015 at 7:48 am

Very enlightening I find humor to be a very useful tool to "swing" from depression to not, necessarily manic, but rather a happy medium that gets me thru life. My overall health, mental and physically, hinge a lot upon humor.

June, 27 2015 at 3:12 pm

Here's a cute one:
What do you call an argument between a pharmacist and a patient?
A pill owe fight

Jim Balliette
June, 25 2015 at 10:37 am

Why can't we laugh about it? Heck, I don't know. I do! I laugh at lots of things other people find unusual or inappropriate. Sometimes my laughter is self defense; I will laugh or chuckle instead of getting angry or some other negative emotion. Sometimes it is empathetic laughter and seems out of place. Other times it is simply, "Yeah, I get that. IT happened to me too." Laughter occurs for lots of reasons, particularly for me. For me, this is mostly healthy. For watchers, sometimes they choose to have a bad reaction. Whose fault is that, generally? Not mine. However, when I become a CPS, I will have to find a new coping skill for my chuckling to avoid putting off my client/peer.

June, 23 2015 at 4:44 pm

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone. This adage is so true.
Sometimes when my depression is getting the best of me and I'm becoming excessively cynical, irritable, negative, dark, drowning in self pity, etc, I will search for something funny on youtube (or watch a funny movie) to help lift my spirits a bit. I particularly like watching funny animal videos. There's even a website called Stand Up For Mental Health by David Grenier who teaches people around the world with mental illness to become stand up comedians. Some of these gigs can be found on line.
I believe it's important and even healthy to be able to laugh at yourself now and then despite what your situation may be... I know for me it can change my mood from black to at least grey. Even if it only lasts a little while it's worth a try.

February, 26 2012 at 12:42 pm

If I didn't know I was crazy, I'd go insane! I too find a sense of humor gets me through many days. I've taken to collecting songs about insanity, some serious and some humorous. I play them quite regularly and have fun listening to them. Enough of my ramblings.

November, 2 2011 at 1:40 pm

I tend to call myself "mental" and my meds either "anti-mentals" or "the drugs". I have been told off for this by various healthcare professionals and so on, but sometimes you have to be informal. After all, this is my life, I don't go around thinking "ooh look, I have bipolar disorder, I must remember to take lamotrigine and zopiclone, and ensure that I maintain awareness of any symptoms of hypomania that could develop into a crisis situation"
I go about my normal life, and every now and again I think "ooh, I feel a bit mental today. Best take extra drugs tonight."

September, 3 2011 at 7:13 am

Laughter does help...I always tell friends that are low to watch a funny movies or listen to upbeat musics it really helps! I use it to work out & when I have housework to do I don't like it helps to pass the time...

Elizabeth Young
August, 8 2011 at 10:56 am

You're definately onto something here Natasha. My eldest son (who is now 33 and lives as somewhat of a recluse) has Aspergers Syndrome I believe. It wasn't even in the DSM IV when he was growing up, but his out of control behaviours sure lived in our home! With three other children to care for and having bipolar disorder myself, times were often hairy. At least once a month we used to put the movie 'What About Bob?' on and absolutely roar because the main character in the movie reminded us so much of our son. It really wasn't funny, but we chose to see the funny side of things because if we hadn't laughed we'd have cried. I know we did the right thing because now the kids are grown they all still love that movie! Keep up the great work Natasha.

David McKinnon
August, 4 2011 at 2:03 pm

I agree with use of humour as a tool for taking the edge off a difficult situation. I've had, & have now, psychiatrists who have great senses of humour, sometimes some of the things I do are funny - I know it, he knows it, my wife does too - yet others are offended by our laughter.
Sometimes I feel an ownership of the right to poke fun at myself or my disorder/symptoms - others in my shoes can do it, but people w/o a MI cannot. Maybe that's a prejudice I have to deal with, I don't know but I don't enjoy being the butt of a joke at a party which may be funny but I should have been the one to make it. I don't know if I'm being clear with what I mean here. My wife has DID, and she, like I think many of people who have DID, claims a very strong right to be the owner of sometimes very funny humour about DID.
There is a downside to using too much humour however, I've seen it in advocacy situations. People without a MI may say "if it's so funny why are you always complaining about stigma, or funding "
Humour is great but it can have downsides as well.
David - the spelling, if nothing else, tells you I'm from Australia

Zoe Smith
August, 4 2011 at 1:20 pm

I think it would've killed me long ago if I couldn't laugh about it- my blog has both the serious, crappy bits and the funny bits, I need the funny bits.
Being able to laugh at mental illness is a great recovery tool- it's better to laugh a little at one's behaviour during a psychotic/manic/metal episode than to be completely engulfed in shame.
My one caution though is to not hide behind humour- as I often do. I'm learning though, it's all about learning about yourself and you need to laugh to do that.

Deltra Coyne
August, 3 2011 at 3:39 pm

Natasha, you are so right! A sense of humor shows a certain resilience that's necessary when living and coping with bipolar. Actually, sone of the funniest people I've ever met were during my inpatient and outpatient psyhiatric programs. There's a lot of devastation there, but also a lot of positivity and uniqueness - which is funny!

August, 2 2011 at 11:56 am

Love this post Natasha,
Very refreshing. I think that having a sense of humour about your mental illness is a way of accepting who you are, if that makes sense.
Davida Bache

Natasha Tracy
August, 2 2011 at 11:08 am

Hi mef,
I do acknowledge that it can be tough for others (particularly loved ones) to see the humor because they see all the negative effects of the illness.
But yes, I laugh for fear I'll cry. It's very true.
- Natasha

August, 2 2011 at 10:33 am

My family gets mad because they don't thinks it's funny and don't get my sense of humor. One of my friends and I joke all the time about how "crazy" I am. It's just a joke. I figure if I don't laugh about it I will cry. I like what you wrote today, it's very true. I just wish my family would jump on the bandwagon. My husband is starting to get a sense of humor about it, that makes me happy.

Alistair McHarg
August, 2 2011 at 10:11 am

It was Albert Ayler who said, "Music is the healing force of the universe." Well, I would say that humor is right up there along with it. Humor isn't merely a balm, it represents a higher, wiser state of being. When we are in the throes of our illnesses we are incapable of seeing ourselves in context. Nothing is funny. As we heal we are able to look at our pain from a safe distance, and see the humor, absurdity and sheer madness of our lives. Humor isn't merely a helpful tool as we move towards sanity, it is proof that we are making progress. -- Stay tuned.

Natasha Tracy
August, 2 2011 at 9:51 am

Hi Tara,
Yes, I have that "gallows humor" thing too, but it doesn't come out all that much online because I know how people take it. I think it's healthy, but what do I know, I'm crazy? (See.)
And I agree. The self-deprecating thing isn't good. Have to watch out for that one.
- Natasha

August, 2 2011 at 9:43 am

Thanks for this post, Natasha. I have always had a well-developed sense of 'gallows humor' that tends to surprise/shock/unsettle people who expect me to discuss my mental illness(es) seriously/not discuss them at all. It's probably my strongest coping mechanism, and my therapist agrees that it's a healthy way to deal with life.
The only time it becomes problematic for me is when the joking/laughing verge into extreme self-deprecation.

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