ALAN WRIGHT: Laughter is the best medicine

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I HAD two busy consecutive evenings last week – totally different, but with a common theme of togetherness running through them.

The first was at the Studio in Tower Street and was part of a programme to celebrate World Mental Health Week.

I bobbed up and down as master of ceremonies in a packed programme which included speakers, poetry and three bands on stage.

Fine local talent in Mercedes and Fill were in fine voice along with Lee Maddison, Nige Spavin and Bob Garrington.

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Speakers like Emma Wolfindale and Simon Richardson showed a lot of courage in talking through their own mental health experiences with a very supportive audience.

Simon has moved into very interesting areas, including a fascinating idea which goes by the name of Laughter Yoga and does exactly what it says.

It’s common knowledge that the whole focus of health care will turn more and more from the physical to the mental, and evenings like this do a great job in opening up discussion and debate. I would guess that just about every reader of the Hartlepool Mail has some personal experience of mental illness of varying kinds, and degrees of severity.

Happily, many of the physical conditions which killed our grandparents too young are being conquered, but, as most of us live longer, the need for care and treatment in mental well being is mushrooming.

I’ve seen many close relatives and friends go through conditions like Alzheimer’s and depression, and it’s very hard to watch and feel so helpless sometimes.

A lot of people will have left the Studio the other night feeling much more positive and remembering the old saying that a problem shared is a problem halved.

The following night, I was up the road at Durham County Cricket Club compering a splendid Comedy Evening for the Lord’s Taverners charity.

We had two of the best comedians in the country in Gary Marshall and Durham lad Josh Daniels and the audience of almost 300 laughed till they cried.

It was a cheap and cheerful night, with pie and peas on the menu, but what a cracker – and we raised over £4,000 for children in our region who really need help.

As I was saying the nights appeared different, but had a lot in common.

The key link was the natural and almost ancient human need to get together with friends and simply laugh a lot.

It’s funny how the format for comedy has changed over the years in a typical area like ours.

A few generations back, it was the music hall comedians who would pack them out in big theatres like the old Empire in Lynn Street.

There soon followed the heyday of the working men’s clubs, when the concert rooms would be packed on many evenings and on busy Sunday lunchtimes.

Today, it tends to be the smaller venues and the comedy club approach which works, but the central idea is pretty much the same – and it’s lasted so well because it works.

The whole area of mental health and well being is massively complicated and wide ranging, but, without a doubt, talking and laughing together can be tremendous medicine – as I saw twice in 48 hours last week.