Paul Gilmartin is a comedian who has toured the USA for years, he has transferred his comedy into hour specials, and a highly popular run on TBS's Dinner and a Movie. He now hosts a podcast entitled The Mental Illness Happy Hour that explores mental health issues with comedians and creative types. Recently mindyourmind was able to sit down with him to discuss his podcast, the people he interviews, as well as the stigma that surrounds getting help for mental illness.
What made you want to start your podcast, The Mental Illness Happy Hour? How has the response been thus far?
I wanted to share what I had been through, and continue to deal with, in my battles with mental illness. I wanted to let people who don't know much about it, know more about it, and to let those who are suffering know that they are most definitely not alone.
The response has been great. Listenership continues to grow, I've gotten some nice reviews from The Onion's A.V. Club, but most importantly, I get emails pretty much every day from people who thank me for letting them know there is hope and they are not alone.
The first words that you really notice when you go on the website are "YOU ARE NOT ALONE", why do you think this is so important for people who are struggling with their mental health to hear?
Because we feel broken. And if we feel broken we assume that's abnormal. And if we assume we're abnormal, we assume we're a freak of nature. And freaks of nature aren't common. But we're not freaks of nature, we're not broken, we're not abnormal. What we experience is incredibly common, but it isn't discussed like other subjects, for fear of being judged. So we keep it to ourselves and that is toxic. Mental Illness warps perception. We should not rely solely on the thing that is warping perception to give us a full picture of reality. We need other people.
Your podcast features a lot of comedians and creative types, do you think a lot of society kind of ignores that "celebrities" go through things like this? Do you find it helpful that people hear about their experiences in order to relate to them?
I do think there is a perception that if you're a celebrity, your troubles are over with. Though I don't consider myself to be a celebrity, I have experienced enough fame and special treatment to realize troubles don't disappear they just morph into something else. The thing to work on is how comfortable you are with yourself, because everything emanates from there. But being comfortable with yourself is one of the hardest places in life to get to. Especially with mental illness. And especially if there is shame and a lack of hope about it.
I think it's incredibly helpful for people to hear their stories being told by someone else. To me, there is nothing more comforting than thinking "Oh my God, I thought I was the only one who suffered with that!".
You ask a lot of questions of the guests on your show that are pretty personal, have you ever been worried about crossing that line or discussing something they may not want to?
Yes. But I think to get to the stuff that makes the show different, I have to take that chance. I think I do a pretty good job of easing into it, but there have been instances where I didn't and it backfired. I'm learning as I go.
Do you think we are entering a time where we are seeing a bigger emphasis on people's mental health?
I hope so. The world is becoming more polarized. We see it in politics. It's us vs. them. That's so destructive. And that is it's own brand of mental illness, because we are all connected. Everything we do affects other people, so until we're conscious of that, we will continue to act with the belief that we are separate and in competition with each other, when in reality, we are connected, and the answer is to deepen that connection. Especially with people we don't understand. But the first step is being vulnerable so the other person feels safe. Until we learn as a people to be vulnerable, the cycle of hatred will never change. I hope my show is an example of the benefits of taking that chance, putting cynicism aside and being vulnerable. It's been the single most gratifying thing I've done in my professional life.
How would you define stigma, what are its effects on young people trying to get help?
Fear of being judged. Fear of being excluded. Fear of being alone. That's why there is nothing like connecting to people who suffer. It's safe. We build our confidence by letting our feelings out with people who understand us, then it's much easier to discuss it with people who don't understand it. That's kind of where I'm at today. I am not ashamed of my mental illness. In fact, I feel motivated to be as open as possible because I've moved past the shame. I want other people to know its possible. All my life I've cared desperately about what other people think, and if I can overcome worrying about the stigma of my mental illness ANYBODY can.
What is one thing that you would hope people take from listening to your podcast?
There is hope. You are not alone. Be patient. The pain your are experiencing is not a bad thing in the long run. It can make you a better person, but you have to connect to other people to see that. Resist the urge to isolate and keep everything held in. Help is out there, but it's up to you to take the first step. The best things that have happened to me were terrifying in the beginning.