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Laughter really is the best medicine for Sheila

It’s often said laughter is the best medicine and Sheila McMahon loves lifting people’s spirits by making them giggle. By day she’s a counsellor and by night a performer using observational comedy to help raise mental health awareness.

Sheila, who lives near Lichfield, has overcome her own struggles with depression and anxiety and believes humour can be a great coping mechanism. She is on a mission to reduce the social stigma that surrounds mental health and give people who are struggling a voice.

As well as running a private counselling practice, Sheila mixes education with comedy as part of her training, talks and shows. During her performances she shares her own experiences and teaches her audiences about perspectives, coping mechanisms and tools that will help them manage their state of mind.

Sheila said: “From the minute I stood on a made-up stage at seven years of age in our garage performing to the neighbours, I knew I wanted to be an entertainer. At college Iattained a diploma in theatre studies, then went on to teach drama and dance to children and wrote the end of year play to ensure every child got a part.

She added: “I set up my own theatre company which naturally led to me performing stand-up comedy. This then led to performing ‘Sheila M Comedy Shows’. Then I became ill with my mental health. I went into counselling.

“From there I trained as a counsellor and my comedy naturally led to comedy with mental health and my Sheila M Shows became Sheila’s Mental Health Shows.”

Sheila, who runs a monthly support group in Lichfeld, , who runs a monthly support group in Lichfield has appeared on various TV and radio shows,performed at the Edinburgh Fringe festival and become known for her comedy characters.

“I love observational comedy,” she said. “I live by the motto ‘Life is too serious to be taken seriously’. I like doing parody songs and have done one about Covid-19 to the background music of Come on Eileen. “With my Catholic upbringing and experience of attending boarding school run by nuns, I love performing as characters – especially Sister Mary.Humour helps us to relax and can be a great educational tool if we can learn not take ourselves too seriously. There is a big difference between laughing at someone and laughing with someone. I find self-deprecating humour is the safest initial way to break the ice.”

I have a very strong Irish accent and I often start my talks or shows with ‘You can tell by my accent I’m not from around here – I’m from Tamworth’,” Sheila tells Weekend.

She believes the pandemic has led to more people struggling with their mental health to seek help and support.

“Thankfully, I notice there is a lot more people who are willing to recognise and ask for support. I think the pandemic literally pulled the rug from under people where their lives were suddenly changed. Some people who never experienced mental health issues before, suddenly were struggling with anxiety and their own mental health.

“This really highlighted that we cannot take our mental health for granted and how important it is to maintain good mental health,” says Sheila who is a member of Lichfield-based networking group Business First.

ConcernsAs a counsellor, Sheila aims to provide people with a safe space to offload their concerns, make sense of their emotions and find their own solutions to live the life they want.

“When people have the space and time to learn about why they do the things they do, it can be life-changing. We are all a product of our environment and experiences. When we learn what beliefs systems fuel our behaviour and the behaviour of others, it can open a different perspective promoting the benefits of understanding, acceptance, and positive change,” explains Sheila.

She says there are also many things people can do at home to boost their own mental health on a daily basis.

“My top tip is to learn how not to bottle up emotions. Bottling up emotions leads to mental health conditions. This reminds me of the expression ‘depression is merely anger without enthusiasm’. Get yourself a punch bag, use part of the sofa or kneel by the bed and let that frustration and anger out.

“My other tip is finding laughter and fun. I had a beautiful bouquet of flowers delivered as thanks for performing a virtual gig. I took a picture of a half dead plant and pretended I received that.

“Imagining the look on people’s faces seeing a photo of the half dead plant with a message of great thanks, really gave me as laugh. They knew it was a prank,” says Sheila.

Her work as a counsellor and a comedian is equally rewarding, especially when she has helped someone understand their own struggles or recover from the lowest point in their life.

“When it comes to my talks and shows I enjoy being the voice for people who are struggling with their mental health and who feel like they don’t have a voice or think they don’t deserve to have a voice.

“I almost see the penny drop when I look out into the audience and someone realises, they have been blaming themselves for something that was not their fault. What I enjoy equally as much,with ‘enjoy’ maybe not the most appropriate word, is saving lives. It is a privilege.”

“Many a time I have someone come to me for a counselling session who has had enough and does not want to live anymore.

“Sometimes if appropriate, I will bargain with them to stay alive long enough to try some sessions.

“When I see them find their light and learn how to live again, well, I don’t think I can even describe how that feels, being in a position to walk with someone out of the darkness to find their light. It is a privilege,” says Sheila.

For tips on how to boost your mental health see Sheila’s website

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