Reflections from our nation’s first “I Will Listen” event
Philadelphians and tourists alike piled into Love Park on Tuesday, June 3, 2014, for the city’s first ever “I Will Listen” fair, a gathering of like minded mental health advocates pledging to listen to those who suffer from mental illness. Kiosks and activities lined the sidewalks around the famous LOVE statue as people from an assortment of mental health organizations shared their stories and goals with one another. I was invited to attend this event by Christa Scalies, Founder of Giggle On®, in an effort to help promote laughter as a wellness tool. Laughter is one of nature’s counters to the impact of depression, stress, and anxiety. My team and I were more than excited set up our “Keep Calm and Giggle On®” sign and our informative table. Before we could even set out every pamphlet, individuals from all different companies, cities, and backgrounds were showering us with interest and the same prominent question, “What does Giggle On® do?”
This is the same question I asked myself a month ago as I helped set up an event called “Giggle On® the Green” on my university’s campus. As a student at the University of Delaware, I work as a Peer Health Coach for the university’s Student Health Services’ organization called Healthy Hens. A few of us Peer Health Coaches were recruited to help with the Giggle On® the Green event, not knowing what to expect. “Laughter yoga?” I thought, “What is this all about?” After the first five minutes in Christa’s workshop, however, I completely understood. As I laughed and engaged in these quirky, fun exercises with other students, I realized that complete strangers laughing next to me felt like old friends. After just fifteen minutes with Christa, my body felt calmer, my mind was clearer, and my whole attitude was just happy and positive. I knew instantly there was something special about this company, and I was determined to get involved. A month later, after numerous emails and Twitter banters, Christa invited me to join the Giggle On® team, and I jumped on board as the new Mental Health & Wellness Intern. My first mission was to attend the “I Will Listen” event in Love Park along with Director of Health Promotion, Brittany Van Sickle. With no idea what to expect, I jumped into the Giggle On® car (with a custom “Laugh” license plate) and headed to my favorite city in the world, Philadelphia.
With a beautiful burning sun and not a cloud in the sky, the stage was set in Center City for an incredible event. As local bands rocked a near-by stage, my team and I were introduced face-to-face with mental health organizations such as the Thomas Scattergood Foundation, NAMI New York, and the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, with whom we had chatted only on Twitter before. The Giggle On® team and I were fascinated to hear the stories behind these organizations and to share our common ideas and goals concerning mental health. To each mental health expert, local Philadelphian on his lunch break, or tourist who stopped by to see what all the commotion was about, we explained that Giggle On® is a company that uses the power of laughter to help people with stress management and mental wellness. The laughter workshops that our founder, Christa, does at workplaces and universities help people to relax and feel safe to talk about their problems, whether it is depression or just general stress. However, it goes beyond that by encouraging people to look at their life in a positive light and to laugh. We explained that our main goal is suicide prevention, but that we present the issue in a positive and upbeat way to encourage people to stay optimistic. People took to this concept extremely fondly and wanted to get involved right away. After just a few hours we were completely wiped of pamphlets!
As rainclouds started drift into our beautiful blue sky, the driving forces behind the I Will Listen event took to the stage with words of gratitude for everyone who came out to support the cause. Even Patrick Kennedy made a cameo to express his deep passion for eliminating the stigma behind mental illness. As a very well known mental health advocate and someone who suffers from Bipolar Disorder himself, Kennedy touched each of us with his speech, saying that it is time for us to “ring that bell for freedom” and “listen to one another.” Later it was announced that the governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, declared June 3, 2014 “I Will Listen” day for the State of Pennsylvania, and a sense of incredible accomplishment and pride traveled through the smiling crowd. After a few more inspirational speeches, a sudden downpour of rain forced everyone to pack their bags and head off. Running back to our car laughing and soaking wet, the Giggle On® team knew they had just experienced a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Reflecting back on the I Will Listen fair that night, I thought about all of the incredible individuals who came out to support the same cause. Although we each came from a different company, and even a different state, we all had the same mission: to encourage people to feel safe talking about their mental illness and more importantly, to encourage people to listen to those who talk. This, I thought, is exactly what Giggle On® is all about. Giggle On® is not only a company that works to prevent suicide, they are a message to people of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures that it is okay to be happy, to laugh, to love yourself, and to enjoy being alive. Giggle On® speaks to people who are afraid or ashamed of their mental illness and it says, “You are not alone.” It tells them to speak up and talk about their mental illness, and it tells them to listen. By listening, laughing, and loving, we can work together to eliminate the mental health stigma and to bring hope and joy back into the lives of millions.
Don’t give up…get your Giggle On!
Article and video by Lindsey Benatti, Mental Health & Wellness Intern, Giggle On®