Stigma around mental health is an ongoing issue and a “certified insane” comedian is aiming to explore just that with the public’s help in a one-person play at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre.
JD Derbyshire, a comedian, playwright and performer, turned their experiences with the Canadian mental-health system into an award-winning, memoir-style play titled “Certified,” which will be performed at Gateway Theatre from March 8 to 20.
Derbyshire said the play follows the story of how they were certified insane several times and were “incarcerated in psychiatric facilities” as part of their life.
Audience members will assess Derbyshire’s “sanity,” from the first diagnoses to subsequent hospitalizations and diagnosis afterwards, as a personal mental health review board, during the play.
“How do we define crazy and who gets to decide? The idea (of the play) is to challenge ideas we have about mental illness,” said Derbyshire.
“It’s a way for people to explore ideas of what we think that are sane and insane, and I want people to know this is how people live with it and get conversations going about what we know and don’t know about mental health.”
Comedy, humour and being a performer kept Derbyshire going during the difficult parts of their life.
“Having those skills and crafts to come back to and things that I loved helped me feel like my life wasn’t over when I got my diagnoses,” they said.
“I think that this was a story I had to tell through comedy and playwriting, and I really wanted to find a way to involve the audience in it and have humour, too, because I just like how humour can open us up to ideas that we might not be able to receive.”
When asked if they believe there is more mental-health awareness being discussed in the world, they agreed.
However, it “sometimes just doesn’t make it into the conversations” before a crisis occurs, according to Derbyshire.
They hope there is more talk about what the mental-health system is, what it can or cannot provide and more on peer and family support.
“The mental-health system is not a very caring system. They do their best with what they have, but often you end up hospitalized and medicated, and not have other skills to fall back on.
“I want to see more of people figuring out how to live with these mental health challenges.”