Conan O’Brien’s sharp humor masked depression, but the comedian sought treatment for depression and the accompanying anxiety.
A light has slowly dawned on the realities of life with anxiety and depression, thanks partially to the openness of celebrities such as Conan O’Brien, Kristen Bell, and Adele.
As a comedian, O’Brien’s outward persona may make him seem like an unlikely person to have anxiety and depression. But for Conan O’Brien, depression and anxiety have been lifelong companions.
Celebrities often use their stardom to shed stigmas, including those surrounding mental health.
While O’Brien hasn’t been an advocate for those with anxiety and depression, he’s been open and honest about how professional treatment, his family, and comedy have helped him when mental health challenges weigh him down.
Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Treatments, ranging from talk therapy and deep breathing to visualization techniques and prescription medications, can help manage symptoms of both conditions.
O’Brien is a firm proponent of professional treatment and also acknowledges the role of strong support from family and friends.
Conan O’Brien, best known for his 16 years as the host of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” went through a public ousting from “The Tonight Show”after only one year.
The period around 2010 when controversy surrounded him, NBC, and late-night host Jay Leno was an understandably difficult time that lead to some issues with depression for O’Brien.
But he has been open and honest about how depression and anxiety have been a part of his life years before entering show business.
O’Brien went into greater depth about depression and anxiety in a 2019 interview with NPR’s “Fresh Air”host Teri Gross. After interviewing Gross on his show, he joked with her that once the show was over, he could “. . . go back to being depressed.”
That statement somewhat explains O’Brien’s relationship with depression and his profession as a comedian.
For O’Brien, time stops on stage. There’s no thinking about before or after, where depressive and anxious thoughts live. While he’s performing, he doesn’t experience those feelings. Once it’s over, they hit in full force.
It wasn’t until a chaotic time in his 40s that someone told O’Brien that his symptoms could be depression. He insisted that he had anxiety, not depression.
He sought professional treatment but still had a hard time accepting this diagnosis. He’s since learned about how anxiety and depression often go hand in hand and how both affect him, which helps him understand how to manage his symptoms and find satisfaction in his private and professional life.
O’Brien is far from the only comedian to experience anxiety and depression. Sarah Silverman, Stephen Fry, Richard Pryor, and the late Robin Williams are familiar names in comedy who currently have or had mental health challenges.
A 1975 study took one of the first looks at the phenomenon of poor mental health among comedians. The study included 55 highly successful comedians and delved into why and how they approached their comedy.
Many of the participants used comedy to put themselves in a place of power. Though the study is nearing 50 years old, O’Brien and others have expressed that comedy gives them power by making fun of themselves before anyone else can.
There were other similarities among the most successful comedians, including their family dynamics, experiences being bullied, and high intelligence quotients (IQs).
Mental health and personality factors seemed to play a role in both their success and the eventual chance of death.
Comedians have explained that the life of a comedian may put them at a greater chance for mental health conditions.
For example, they spend long periods on tour away from their families, have easy access to alcohol and illegal substances late at night, and experience high stress as they try to make an audience laugh.
That kind of lifestyle also leans toward poor sleep and eating habits, which can contribute to mental health symptoms, according to a
Conan O’Brien fits into the category of a brilliant comedian with mental health challenges. But he’s managed to skip self-medication and other negative ways of handling mental health symptoms.
With his family’s support, O’Brien has managed his symptoms with psychotherapy and medication.
O’Brien worried that antidepressants would affect his ability to push comedic boundaries, dulling his wit. But in practice, he’s found that better mental health does just the opposite, giving him greater motivation and sharpness.
Comedy is still an opportunity for him to escape the thoughts that contribute to his symptoms. But now, he has a better understanding and perspective on mental health and the humor for which he’s known.
As O’Brien discovered when he sought treatment for depression, anxiety has been the more noticeable mental health condition throughout his life.
For Conan O’Brien, anxiety has been present throughout his life. As a child, he struggled to fit in. He came from a stable home but was a scared, worried child.
And yet, he chose a profession that lends itself to anxiety. Employment in show business isn’t guaranteed, a successful routine with one audience may flop with another.
He constantly worried about the next performance, how it would be received, and if ratings would hold.
Depression and anxiety are the most prevalent mental health conditions in the United States. According to the
But help is available. One of the first steps is learning more about the condition.
If you’re unsure whether you have depression, you can learn more about this condition by checking out Psych Central’s hub on depression. The following resources might also be helpful:
You can find additional resources and help through:
If you or someone you know is in distress, you can get help immediately by reaching out to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. This code connects you directly to a 24/7 suicide hotline, where you can talk with someone trained to help. They can also connect you with resources and treatment in your area.
You can also text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 at any time from anywhere in the United States.
Depression and anxiety aren’t uncommon. You’re not alone if you feel sad, lonely, or isolated to the point that it’s hard for you to go about your daily routine. Reaching out to family, friends, a mental health professional, or a hotline can help.