Using counseling and comedy to reduce mental health stigma

Sheila McMahon

A Midland comedienne is on a mission to try to reduce the social stigma that surrounds mental health issues by combining her counselling and comedy skills.

Working as a counsellor by day and a stand-up comedian at night, most would never guess from Sheila McMahon’s professional, confident demeanour that she has suffered from depression so severe she wanted to commit suicide when she was only seven years old.

As a result of her personal experiences, 39 year old Sheila, who lives in Sutton Coldfield, is aiming to reduce the social stigma surrounding mental illness.

Using her counselling experience and sense of humour, she wants to educate people about depression so people can understand more about the condition.

The entertainer, who has performed her own comedy show as part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival for the last 10 years, hopes to eventually tour her new show, ‘Sheila’s MHS – Mental Health Show’ around the UK. Her debut performance at the Garrick Theatre in Lichfield recently was a sellout.

Sheila has also just published her first book, ‘The Power of Knowing You – Learning from the Past’.

In it she shares some of the personal childhood experiences that have shaped who she is today.

Sheila grew up on a farm in the West of Ireland, where she had a very difficult childhood. She was born with a cleft palate, which meant she had to endure arduous speech lessons and was the victim of bullying for many years.

As a result, she spent her entire childhood feeling worthless, anxious, insecure. She found comfort in food, and used to binge in secret to try to make herself feel better.

For someone with speech difficulties and confidence issues, it was an unlikely alliance with amateur dramatics that proved to be the turning point in Sheila’s life.

She discovered that, despite her problems, she was a natural entertainer who enjoyed performing.

After deciding she needed to make a fresh start somewhere new, Sheila stuck a pin in a UK map and left Ireland to start a new life in Banbury, Oxfordshire.

In her mid-twenties Sheila started suffering with panic attacks and was eventually diagnosed with depression.

She went to see a therapist and as a result started to understand how the negative beliefs, behaviours and self-limitations she acquired in her childhood were holding her back and preventing her from living the life she wanted.

In fact, she became so interested in the subject she started to study it further and is now a qualified psychotherapist. She runs her own private practice in Birmingham, counselling clients with mental health issues.

Sheila wrote her book as a way to share her learning and experiences, in the hope of helping others suffering from similar issues. The book contains exercises designed to give readers the tools to break free from limiting thoughts and negative patterns of behaviour, to help them move forward with their life and be the best they can be.

Sheila said: “Statistics suggest that one in four people in the UK suffer from depression or a similar mental health issue. It’s a very dark place to be in when negative thoughts completely overwhelm you and you struggle to cope with everyday life.

“That’s why I’m so passionate about trying to help others – not just those suffering from depression but also their family and friends who often don’t understand that someone can’t just ‘snap out’ of depression like they might just ordinarily ‘snap out’ of a bad mood. It’s way more deep-rooted than that.

“Writing the book has been very insightful. It’s taken me on an emotional journey that has made me even more determined to turn my negative past into a positive future that will benefit me and many others.”

Sheila is holding a book launch in Lichfield on June 19. To find out more about the event email
‘The Power of Knowing You’ is also available to purchase from Amazon, priced at £12.99.