Do you like mental health podcasts? Today’s guest started one of the original mental health podcasts, Mental Illness Happy Hour. Over 10 years later, it’s still one of the most popular podcasts in the genre.
In this episode, the host of Mental Illness Happy Hour, Paul Gilmartin, tells us all about his own mental health journey, how he designs his podcast, and why he believes that humor and real talk are the best ways to move forward with addiction and mental illness.
From 1995 to 2011 Paul Gilmartin co-hosted TBS’ “Dinner and a Movie” and performed his half-hour stand-up special “Comedy Central Presents: Paul Gilmartin.”
He is a frequent guest on the “Jimmy Dore Show,” performing political satire as his right-wing Congressman Richard Martin (R-Ohio).
In 2011 he began The Mental Illness Happy Hour, a weekly audio podcast consisting of interviews with artists, friends, listeners, and the occasional mental health professional about all the battles in our heads. With a 5/5 Apple Podcasts rating, it is frequently chosen as an Editor’s Pick. It was chosen by Esquire as one of the best podcasts of 2016 and featured in the PBS Documentary “A New State of Mind.”
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hey, everyone, I’m your host, Gabe Howard and calling into the show today, we have the host of the popular podcast The Mental Illness Happy Hour, Paul Gilmartin. Now from 1995 to 2011, he co-hosted TBS’ Dinner and a Movie and performed on Comedy Central Presents. His podcast has won so many awards, I simply don’t have time to list them. Paul, welcome to the show!
Paul Gilmartin: It took me a minute to get to the mic, Gabe, I was tripping over my awards. I’ve run out of room to store them.
Gabe Howard: I am so jealous, I mean, I won one award, and I still, I wear it around my neck. You could build like a car out of the stuff that you’ve won. It’s, I’m glad it’s a mental health podcast, though. Like, if it can’t be me, I’m glad it’s you.
Paul Gilmartin: We’re all on the same side.
Gabe Howard: Right, right. I’d rather be above you, though. I mean, I just, I want to make that clear. I just.
Paul Gilmartin: If anybody understands that, Gabe, it’s me.
Gabe Howard: Listen, if you are on the fence about listening to Paul’s podcast, you should just listen to the episode that I’m on, because that is clearly the best one that you’ve ever done, right? You can, you can vouch for that, right, Paul?
Paul Gilmartin: Hands down. A minute into it, I almost said, why are we even doing this? Because it’s going to ruin all the other episodes. And so I almost stopped and then I thought, No, Gabe’s going to take this the wrong way because he’s f***ing crazy.
Gabe Howard: I do, I do have issues, Paul. Now, I have so many questions and what I want to talk about, you started out as a comedian like, you know, podcast wasn’t even invented. You were just, you moved to L.A. and you’re like, Mom, I’m going to be a comedian and you were, and you were a successful comedian. And then one day you decided, Hey, I’m going to start a podcast now. Now that I can understand, but why mental illness? Of all the available topics, a mental illness podcast?
Paul Gilmartin: It was actually the topic before deciding to make it a podcast.
Gabe Howard: Really?
Paul Gilmartin: Yeah, I’ve been taking meds since 2000. Been in therapy on and off since the late 80’s. I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist since 2000, go to support groups, treat my depression, process all my s**t. Been doing that for years and in 2010 I was like, I don’t think I need meds. I think I’m going to go off them, went off them.
Gabe Howard: It’s not an uncommon story, but.
Paul Gilmartin: Not at all, not at all. I’ve done it before and when I’d done it before the depression would come back within a month or two. I’d go back on them. This time, I felt good for about five months. So I thought, I really don’t need meds anymore. And then I started getting really sad and I thought, Well, maybe it’s just because it’s between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And then I was in a support group meeting and somebody was talking about a suicide attempt, and I found myself feeling kind of jealous. And I thought, something is wrong. And it occurred to me, Oh, my life really doesn’t suck. I just need to go back on my meds because nothing in my life had changed except my perception of it. And I was doing all this stuff I’m supposed to do, you know, go to my meetings, exercise, try to eat right, share my feelings all that, all that stuff. And still, I felt terrible. So that’s why I knew, oh, the meds was the only thing that’s changed. And I thought, I’ve been doing this for a decade and I got fooled by it. And I believe that mental illness is a real thing. Imagine somebody out there that believes that therapy is weakness, you know?
Gabe Howard: Unfortunately, a lot of people believe that. They are wrong, to be clear.
Paul Gilmartin: Right. Yeah. Imagine what a hill that person has to climb to ever get to a place of mental health. And I thought there needs to be a conversation about this that can reach people that don’t want to listen to something that’s academic, that don’t want to listen to something that’s new age-y, that don’t want to listen to something that’s somebody like Dr. Phil shouting at you about what you need to do. And I thought, You know, I think I could probably foster a conversation that might be entertaining about this with some, you know, some jokes thrown in. But throughout it just kind of vulnerability and honesty. And that might bring some people in and help some people.
Gabe Howard: I have to ask. You’re a gifted comedian and you’re funny, I’ve listened to your show. It’s got all sorts of elements, but whenever there’s humor involved and whenever there’s a comedian involved, people are skeptical and they think, Hey, is this? Is this scripted? Is this real life? Are you telling the truth or you just, are you gilding the lily for jokes? How sincere and honest and accurate is your podcast?
Paul Gilmartin: Oh, 100 percent, 100 percent, I mean, that is the currency of the podcast, that to me, is the most. I hate the word sacred, but the most sacred thing is the honesty and the vulnerability in the podcast. Because without it, there is nothing. Because I saw the power of vulnerability and honesty in my support groups and how it changed my life. And I didn’t want to make it something that was overly serious. Even though I take the subject matter seriously, I didn’t want to take myself too seriously.
Gabe Howard: Now, as a podcaster and a comedian and as somebody who’s trying to have this, this real conversation, I have a saying, Gabe personally, that nobody lies awake at night and wonders if they’re having a mental health issue. They lie awake at night and wondering if they’re going freakin’ crazy, right? That’s just
Paul Gilmartin: Mm-hmm.
Gabe Howard: That’s how people think. That’s how we understand it. But you know, the world is a changing, and we have initiatives like conscientious language and person first language and speech like mine and shows like yours. They we we don’t meet the goals of these initiatives. But what are your thoughts on these initiatives and has it impacted your show at all?
Paul Gilmartin: If it has, I’m well, have I gotten in trouble, you know, in air quotes with things that I say on the podcast? No, but my consciousness has been raised while doing the podcast because I started to talk about topics that I knew very little about. I knew very little about the transgender community. I knew very little about the lives of women, you know, beyond the female friends that I had and the women that I date. But you know, in the podcast, people share secrets, people share, whether it’s through an anonymously filled out survey or a guest who’s just opening up about something that people don’t usually open up about. It’s been like college, learning about other people’s lives and experiences. So, anybody’s experience outside of a cisgender, straight white guy in his 50s, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve definitely stumbled. You know, I used the word, in the first year of the podcast, I used the word tranny. And you know, somebody kindly alerted me to the fact that that is an offensive, outdated term. And so, I made a mental note. I share it with friends of mine. If they drop that word, I’ll say, you know, by the way, that term is offensive to people who are transgender. But I didn’t know in 2000 and 2011, I was still ignorant, and I’m sure there are tons of things I’m still ignorant about. There are some things that I take in and I give weight to, and there are other things where I’m like, Well, that’s just that person’s just, you know, their asshole’s screwed on a little tight. They need to chill, or we just will have to agree to disagree.
Paul Gilmartin: You know, I try to avoid politics, but as you know, our last president, his his just everything that he created and that was happening around him crossed into people’s mental health in a way that I don’t think any other president ever had, particularly the pussy tape thing. And when he was elected, despite that evidence of him bragging about grabbing a woman’s vagina. You know, probably a quarter of my episodes deal with somebody experiencing sexual trauma. I thought, I might have to make an exception about talking about politics because this guy who is not only been a sexual predator but is bragging about it. And then 60 million people are like, Oh, that’s OK. That’s that, you know, that’s going to affect people. I saw it the next day in my support group that women were in tears in my support group, that this guy was elected and I couldn’t even, I couldn’t eat. I was so just sick with disgust that this guy was elected. And I’m sure there are people listening right now that like him and are like, F**k you, buddy. Hey, thank God, we live in a democracy where we can each have a differing opinion. But that’s my opinion and I’m not a Democrat. The last two elections, I haven’t voted for either a Democrat or a Republican. I think both parties are f**ked up and corrupt. But this was an example of where I had to make an exception, and I tried not to harp on it. And I got some angry letters from people that were Trumpers, and they said, I’m never going to listen to your show again. And I was like, OK, goodbye. You know, I spoke my truth.
Gabe Howard: It’s very, very interesting that we get the whole snowflake concept and
Paul Gilmartin: Right.
Gabe Howard: The remember when people didn’t used to be offended and we could all just move on with our lives?
Paul Gilmartin: Right.
Gabe Howard: And then of course, you bring up a fact, he said it. This is not a debate. He said it, he admits he said it. This hurt people, which is
Paul Gilmartin: Right.
Gabe Howard: Your right to be hurt. You pointed that out and all of a sudden, a whole bunch of people are offended and won’t listen to your show. Which I believe, now, please correct me if I’m wrong, is the literal definition of a snowflake who gets offended all the time. Now, am I? Am I getting that accurate?
Paul Gilmartin: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Gabe Howard: People who won’t listen to your show because you talked about something that they didn’t like?
Paul Gilmartin: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: You’re probably a snowflake too, but I don’t know.
Paul Gilmartin: Yeah,
Gabe Howard: I don’t know how any of this works.
Paul Gilmartin: I’m more of an icicle. Yeah. And what you know, one of the things I said to when I touch on this topic was like, I said, I’m no f**king angel, you know, I had years of being an unfaithful pig. And I think it was important and is important for me to share that if I’m ever making any kind of critique or talking about this topic, because it’s not to say I’m better than him, he’s an immoral person. It’s to say, Hey, here’s a topic that people are feeling unsafe. And this seems a little crazy to me because I’m not running for president. And that’s the difference. And I am, I feel terrible about the times that I’ve crossed women’s boundaries or cheated on a partner or my ex-wife. I’m trying as hard as possible to approach this with transparency and open mindedness and compassion. And I know deep down, Donald Trump is a hurt child. You know, you can see it on his face. He just wants to be loved and he is doing whatever it takes. He will say whatever he believes will get him the most amount of love, and he just happened to find that it was.
Gabe Howard: Vitriol and sexism and racism
Paul Gilmartin: Yeah, vitriol and racism and sexism and all this, all this other stuff, and I have to say it because it’s affecting people’s mental health. I mean, here’s how his presidency affected my mental health. I’m not trying to jump on the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. I’m just saying this is an issue about how can we be a better society and how does this affect people? And how can I be a better person? Because I’ve been a problem, you know? I’ve been arrogant and selfish and cruel. And how can I be a better person? And I think we’ve got to, to be honest, whether it’s us or it’s somebody else that’s making the world unsafe. I think if people are going to feel safe, we have to have conversations about what makes them feel unsafe. It seems pretty elemental.
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Gabe Howard: And we are back with the host of The Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast, Paul Gilmartin.
Gabe Howard: And I know we’ve kind of fallen down a little bit of a rabbit hole here, but to get back on topic, The Mental Illness Happy Hour is the safe place. I mean,
Paul Gilmartin: Right.
Gabe Howard: I’ve listened to the show. You discuss everything unflinchingly, including times that I think, Oh, wow, I don’t know that I would have said that. And I say a lot. You know, you and I are basically clones. You’re just the more successful version of it. But I say a lot of stuff and sometimes I feel uncomfortable. And then I think, man, that’s, there’s a lot of value in feeling uncomfortable.
Paul Gilmartin: To me, no topic should be off the table. It’s just what is your context and what is your point of view? I think humor, you’ve just really got to listen to what is somebody saying underneath the joke? To me, it’s pretty clear. If somebody is doing their job well with humor, it’s clear whether they’re punching up or punching down. I think on my podcast, we always punch up.
Gabe Howard: And of course, for those non-comedians in the room, punching up is when you pick on the people above you and punching down is when you pick on the people below you. It’s a well-accepted concept, except that it’s not so much a well-accepted concept anymore. Is it because there’s a whole group of, you know, privileged people who think that by being picked on by those down, for lack of a better word, that the tide is turning?
Paul Gilmartin: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: Is that tide turning a good thing, a bad thing? Is it not turning at all? Is it just, oh, I want to be a victim too now?
Paul Gilmartin: That’s a great question, and I think one of the biggest problems that society, the world in general, has is people who aren’t victims when they stop getting their way, want to see themselves as victims. And I think you’re seeing that with a lot of the white population, especially males, especially middle class, upper middle class. And that’s not to say that an individual person hasn’t suffered, but how do I put this? Somebody wrote in and said, You know, I was born on a farm. We were poor. We didn’t have anything. I am white. How do I have white privilege? And I said, Nobody is saying that you haven’t struggled or that you haven’t had hardship. What people are saying is that on top of that, you haven’t also had to battle racism personally or being objectified in the workplace or somebody making jokes about your Chinese eyes or whatever it is that somebody who isn’t white has to deal with all the time. And so it’s not saying you don’t have it hard or you’ve never had it hard or you don’t have your hurdles. It’s just you also don’t have this other thing on top of it. And the thing I’ve learned in my support group is there is no coming together. There’s no chance for any kind of partnership if you can’t own your half. And so both people go to their victim corners. And both people have been victimized. For anything to move forward, there has to be some type of accepting of personal responsibility, and I love that we’re talking about these things, Gabe, because I’m tired of talking about a lot of the other stuff around doing the podcast. And these are the things that occupy a lot of my mind, not only as a podcaster, but as a comedian, because these are the most important topics of our day, personal responsibility, ethics, being a good neighbor, being able to laugh, knowing when to be serious.
Gabe Howard: It seems like those are the things that people have the most trouble with. These are the conversations that society needs to have though, right? We’re really good as a society at discussing these like really high level events, you know, war, famine. But nobody is discussing whether or not you should mow your neighbor’s lawn and not be paid for it or not even ask for anything. Nobody’s really asking how to do these small things. I have this saying that I use and I completely ripped it off from somebody whom I completely forgot. But it’s like everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to let anybody over in traffic. And
Paul Gilmartin: Mm-hmm.
Gabe Howard: I feel so strongly that the simplest things that we can do like let somebody merge in traffic are the areas that we’re not doing.
Paul Gilmartin: Absolutely. One of the tropes here in Los Angeles is, you know, the people that call themselves spiritual because they wear a robe and sandals and they go to India for six months and come back with a tattoo. And they’re still self-centered and full of themselves. And one of my friends said, You want to be spiritual? Return your shopping cart, use your turn signal. And I completely agree with what you’re saying. It’s the little things. There have been people whose day I’m sure I made better by saying, Wow, I really like your hair. What a cool T-shirt, or. People like to feel noticed and validated. And if we can do it in a way, I think that is sincere. I mean that those are the two things I think human beings can never get enough of is honesty and sincerity. And if you can throw in vulnerability and laughter? That’s why I love my support group meetings is because I get all of those things packed into an hour or an hour and a half, and it changed my life.
Gabe Howard: Paul, as you know, I’m no stranger to depression, you are no stranger to depression. Everything that you said is spot on, right? And it’s super easy to say, it’s much more difficult to do, even when you’re not suffering from depression. I know that you’re not a psychiatrist, but as somebody who lives with depression, what advice do you have for people that you know they’re wandering through the streets, they do notice something, or maybe they can’t notice something, or maybe they can’t get out of their own head? I mean, I have to imagine being a, you know, a 50 some year old man, as you said, you’ve got some coping skills or some hints that you can share with the audience.
Paul Gilmartin: Well, one of the things that I heard in my support group is if nothing changes, nothing changes. And you can sit and wish for things to be different. But what are you going to do about it? Insanity is just thinking that something is going to change without you doing anything about it. If the track record is that you’ve been doing the same thing and getting the same results for years. I think I justified my being a pig, being a cheater, using my sense of humor to belittle people. I think I subconsciously told myself, Well, there was a lot of things you didn’t get as a kid emotionally. So this is just who you are. Well, no, that was f**ked up for me to do that. I don’t accept that today. And it took me years to get to the place where I had to really take a hard look and say, Do you really like who you are and who you’ve been? And the answer was no. No, I do not. And so what do I do about it? I go to two to three support group meetings.
Paul Gilmartin: I talk to friends on the phone. I try to be helpful to other people. I get honest about what my weaknesses are. And that is all I can do. Try to be honest with myself and say, Well, what can I do to be better? So somebody who’s, sorry, this is a really long way to get there. But for the person who’s suffering with depression, no, you are not a bad person. That’s not what I’m saying. But what I’m saying is something needs to change. It is not your fault that you were born with depression or events led you to have depression, but it is your responsibility to find a way to treat your depression. And depression, in my opinion, in almost all cases, can be lightened or helped with something. Could be talk therapy. It could be, what is it? EMDR? Working with horses. Spending more time cuddling with your dog? You know, who knows. But just start trying something and talk to people who have battled depression whose lives seem to be working.
Gabe Howard: Two things that you mentioned there, I think, are the hardest things for people to understand. The first thing is are you named a bunch of things to try and you said you have to keep trying, you got to try something. So many people try one thing. It didn’t work. And they’re like, Well, this is who I am. I tried and it didn’t work. And that’s especially devastating when that one thing they tried might be therapy or medication. And they’re just like, well, it didn’t work on the first try. The second thing is, you said, talk to people.
Paul Gilmartin: Well, first of all, I also want to say regarding the meds, you know, you said people try something once and they’re like, Well, that doesn’t, doesn’t work for me. That especially applies to meds. If you and your doctor have decided that meds are something that you want to try, because I don’t think that should be the first thing you try. I think talk therapy, diet and exercise and community are things that you should, you should try first.
Gabe Howard: Very valuable, very valuable indeed.
Paul Gilmartin: Yes, yeah. I have probably tried 30 different meds in my 20 years of taking them. There’s a lot of trial and error and a lot of patience required, but I eventually found the ones that work for me and the dosages that work for me. And sometimes it changes and sometimes they’ll stop having that same effect. So I just wanted to make clear that that was in regards to medicine. It’s especially important too, if you decide that you’re going to try the meds to not just go with well, this first one didn’t work. I’m going to give up or this one had a side effect. All meds suck, you know. And support groups, somebody will say, Well, 12-Step groups don’t work. You know this. This person died. The support group didn’t help them. Well, that’s like saying this person didn’t get in shape, so gym memberships don’t work.
Gabe Howard: [Laughter] That’s, that’s a good point. Good point.
Paul Gilmartin: Yeah, it’s there for you to utilize. For me, my support groups, while there is an intellectual aspect to it, mostly, it’s the emotional and spiritual things that I get from it.
Gabe Howard: You know, one of the things that I like about support groups, Paul, and I feel that the need to say is the self-awareness of the group. You don’t have to cry, right? And you don’t have to hug people and you don’t have to get a hug. I learned when I started going to support groups, I’m a giant guy. I’m six foot three and 250 pounds and I am a hugger. And somebody’s like, you know, Hey, hey Gabe, come here, come here. You just can’t run around hugging people. You have to say, Are you a hugger? And then they will say yes or no. If they say no, you know, ask for a fist bump or just move along. It’s no big deal and I was like, this is just such an incredible thing to know. And I just I want people to hear that because I know that people in the audience are like, Oh, support groups sound great. But Paul said, Everybody’s going to hug me and I’m not doing that. It’s a unique space, and you’re more than
Paul Gilmartin: It is.
Gabe Howard: Welcome to tell people that you don’t want to cry and not to hug you, and you’re not required to hug people.
Paul Gilmartin: Absolutely. You’re fine to sit in the back with your arms folded and leave whenever you want. Nobody is going to make you do anything. Nobody is going to make you say anything. You don’t have to like anybody in there. But if you see something you like, come back.
Gabe Howard: It’s like a salad bar, right? Take what you want and leave the rest.
Paul Gilmartin: Yes, exactly.
Gabe Howard: And much like a salad bar, if there’s something on the salad bar that you don’t like, you don’t have to stand in front of it and scream at it and talk about how awful it is.
Paul Gilmartin: Right.
Gabe Howard: Just just just don’t eat it. Just put
Paul Gilmartin: Right.
Gabe Howard: The stuff on your plate that you like.
Paul Gilmartin: Yeah, and understand that everybody there isn’t well. Everybody is in there at some point in their recovery and growth, so you’re going to have people who are super safe and super healthy, and there’s going to be people who are still kind of toxic and hard to be around. But in my experience in almost 20 years of going to support groups is that the overwhelming majority of people are decent and have kind hearts.
Gabe Howard: And they’re trying.
Paul Gilmartin: And they’re trying.
Gabe Howard: They’re trying I. An example that I heard is it’s like shaming an overweight person at the gym.
Paul Gilmartin: Right.
Gabe Howard: It’s like they’re at the gym. They’re trying, you know, the person may be toxic or have boundary issues or problems, but they’re there in the support group. They are trying. Even if that’s the only thing that you can think kindly about them in that moment or positive in that moment, that’s a very powerful thing that that person is trying to be better.
Paul Gilmartin: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: Hang your hat on that and move on to the next thing.
Paul Gilmartin: And try to remember you at your worst moments, maybe this person is having their worst moment.
Gabe Howard: Paul, thank you so much. Now your podcast is Mental Illness Happy Hour. It’s available on every single podcast player imaginable, but you also have a website. What is that website?
Paul Gilmartin: It is MentalPod.com. And there’s a forum there, you can fill out surveys anonymously, there’s about a dozen different anonymous surveys that people fill out, and that’s about half the show is reading those surveys and they can be really compelling. People get deep on those and share some really, really personal stuff. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking. Yeah. And Mental Pod is the social media handle you can follow me at.
Gabe Howard: Yeah, follow on all of them. Paul, thank you so much for being here.
Paul Gilmartin: Thanks, Gabe.
Gabe Howard: Oh, you are very welcome and of course, a big thank you to all of our listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” as well as an award winning public speaker who may be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon, or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me just by heading over to my website, gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free and hey, do me a favor. Recommend the show to your friends, family members and colleagues, whether it’s social media and email or good old fashioned word of mouth. And I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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