Self-Defence Through Humour

Our Self-Defence Through Humour programme explored how young people can use humour to defend themselves against threats to their mental health. Developed in partnership with young people themselves, it provided rich, engaging and interactive training on this universal life skill. It operated from 2018 to 2019, delivering training to 82 young people in schools and university.

Exam stress; growing up; worrying about the future and scores of other issues can take their toll on your mental health.  Academic pressures can weigh heavily on our minds, and almost all young people have periods of feeling down, anxious and swept up in things that are beyond our control.  

But there is one area where – no matter what happens – you can protect your mental health and find your own angle on what’s going on. Self-Defence Through Humour explores:

  • The funny side of our inner critics
  • How to ‘own it’
  • Using humour to combat anxiety
  • Humour and recovery from mental distress
  • Playing with pain to truly laugh

Humour is a powerful way to defend yourself against threats to your mental health.  Found in every human society, it is a force for connecting people – something that is fundamental to our humanity and our sense of who we are.  Humour embodies our capacity to have agency and freedom in our own minds, even in the worst of circumstances.  In terms of mental health, you might say that humour is good simply because it cheers us up.

But the relationship between humour and mental health is much more than this. Charlie Chaplin once said, “to truly laugh, you must take your pain and play with it”. Those of us who have had difficulties with our mental health – who know what it is to touch pain – have a special, precious opportunity. As we play with our pain we have the potential to transform our personal difficulties into a shared experience; to recognise the joy and the absurdity of being alive.

Self-Defence Through Humour is about unlocking that power. It explores how to use humour to defend yourself against threats to your mental health; and how to harness the mental health difficulties you have faced to truly laugh. Whether you have been going through challenges or your mental health is going just fine, this training is designed to help you unleash this critical, universal life-skill.

“It was amazing! Brilliant! Some really sophisticated ideas, but you could see the kids really got it.” (Year 8 Teacher)

“It was really fun and it made me look at things in a different light. I didn’t know I could do stuff like this.” (Year 8 Girl)

“The activities were amazing” (Undergraduate student)

“10 out of 10. Would recommend” (Undergraduate student)

“It was a really big deal for (Year 8 boy) to participate like that. You normally never see him getting involved in lessons, but he was straight in there!” (Year 8 Teacher)

“Interactive, interesting and helpful” (Undergraduate student)

Self-Defence Through Humour was supported by a grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, developed with Immanuel College and Park View School, and commissioned by King’s College London.