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Comedy for Coping is at the forefront of research which investigates comedy as a resource for mental health recovery. These research developments are led by Dr Dieter Declercq, Senior Lecturer in Film and Media, and Co-Director of the Centre for Health and Medical Humanities, at the University of Kent

Dieter has been researching comedy and mental health for several years (see his 2021 book: Satire, Comedy and Mental Health). Dave and Dieter met in 2020. Since then, they have combined their complementary expertise to change how we research comedy interventions for mental health.

This study was funded by the British Academy and hosted by the University of Kent. The study results are published in Mental Health Review Journal (and the content of this article is accessible for free in the Kent Academic Repository). 

The study demonstrated that stand-up comedy offered participants novel ways to support their recovery journeys compared to traditional approaches to eating disorder recovery. The findings highlight the importance for people with eating disorders to connect with others in recovery, but without focussing on illness. Participants also felt that the stand-up comedy course brought a sense of light-heartedness and fun to recovery. For several participants the course offered a space where they could ‘be themselves’ – and reclaim parts of their identity that otherwise felt ‘lost’ to the eating disorder. Some participants reported that it gave them meaning in life and boosted their mood. Sticking to the course also required commitment, which cultivated a sense of achievement and personal responsibility that carried through to other areas of life, including recovery. As this study is a pilot, further testing is required. Nevertheless, this research has broken new ground by proving that further testing is worthwhile and important.

Dave & Dieter also contributed to a systematic review to understand how existing interventions utilise comedy for individuals experiencing mental health problems. This review is available to read for free in Frontiers in Psychology – and was overseen by Dieter and Dr Helen Brooks, head of the Mental Health Research Group in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work at the University of Manchester. The overview of existing approaches to researching comedy and mental health confirmed the separation between researchers and comedians who work in the field. The systematic review included contributions from staff at the Sussex Partnership Research in Eating Disorders (SPIRED) Clinic, which is part of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SPFT).

Eshika Kafle is an Assistant Psychologist and researcher in eating disorders, who led on writing the systematic review, and also contributed to the C4C study funded by the British Academy. Cat Papastavrou Brooks Clinic Research Assistant at SPIRED. 

The collaboration between C4C, SPFT and the University of Kent is ongoing. Dieter, Dave, Eshika and Cat are currently working on a project funded by an AHRC Impact Accelerator Award. This project will develop a series of short videos and podcasts which use comedy to shift understanding around eating disorder recovery.

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