Let's Talk About Mental Health in Podcasting
why it's important to look after your mental wellness and spot the warning signs
Warning: this post talks about mental health issues, including treatment. If this is a topic that might cause distress, perhaps pass over this article and I’ll see you the next time. Take care.
In early 2019, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. While I discovered that I’d probably been suffering for a lot longer than that, it was made official after a mini-breakdown I had one morning on the way to the marketing agency where I worked at the time.
I spoke about this diagnosis, and the lead-up to it, on my wife’s old podcast, Mental Health and Me.
When my “incident” happened, my brain essentially shut down. I couldn’t take another step forward (I was at the train station ready for my commute to Toronto). I knew I wouldn’t get through the day if I went to work - so, instead, I texted my wife, told her what was happening, and that I was on my way home and needed help.
Because Jaclyn had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety when she was 20 and at university, I knew she’d know the best steps to take next. So when I got home, she drove me to the hospital three cities over that had one of the best mental health programs/teams in that part of Ontario, Canada.
By this stage, I was pretty worked up, with speeding pulses and heart, red skin, and drifting between tiredness and being awake. I spent the next few hours undergoing tests, kind talks with even kinder staff, and more. All of this led to my diagnosis and a treatment plan was put in place, including regular visits to the specialist at the hospital, medication, time off work, and rest.
It helped immensely. By being diagnosed correctly and what the overarching cause was (stress, exhaustion from overwork, and a poor regime when it came to diet and exercise), I was able to get the right treatment and the right future path.
Now, while I still suffer from depression and anxiety - it’s something that’s always there, in the background - I know the signs when it starts to rear its head, and how to manage better.
I wanted to give you this background of my own experience as it helps me when it comes to the topic of mental health issues in the podcasting space, and I don’t think it’s something that’s spoken of enough - and that needs to change.
Why Podcasting is the Perfect Storm for Mental Health Issues
I’ve been in the podcasting space for over 10 years now, both as a podcaster and as a behind-the-scenes person when it comes to helping create/edit podcasts for others. For the most part, this time has been a solo endeavour, although there has been an occasion where I was co-host of a show as well as worked with a team on a client podcast back in my agency days.
Because of this, pretty much everything you hear on any of my shows is the result of my work. From planning to research, recording to editing, publishing, promotion, and more - it’s all done by me. There may be the odd occasion where I’ve outsourced artwork or intros/outros, but that’s a very small part of the bigger creation process.
It’s this solidarity that can cause (or add to) mental health issues for podcasters.
Let’s take editing as an example. I used to hate editing and, as such, didn’t edit my early shows (and you can tell!). Since finances were also limited (being a dad with two kids, mortgage, etc), I also couldn’t afford to outsource. Sure, there were cheap options on the likes of Fiverr but, honestly, even that would have been a hard hit financially when there were so many other things to pay for/worry about.
But I knew my shows could be better. So, I watched a whole bunch of YouTube videos, followed a whole bunch of editors for tips, listened to podcasts about editing and what you should/shouldn’t do, etc, and that in turn gave me the confidence to start editing. But then that’s where the “fun” began.
When you suffer from mental health issues, one of the things you do is question yourself.
are you good enough
do people like you for who you are
are you worthy
Transfer this to the editing process, and you can see the parallels.
is the audio good enough
do people like your podcast
is your content worthy of being consumed
This all comes out in the editing process, because you start to second guess yourself. Your voice, that you don’t already like the sound of (ask any podcaster what they think about their voice!), starts to grate more as you listen back. You hear bits of imperfection in the audio that aren’t actually there. You accentuate parts you think your listeners will like, at the expense of more valuable content. And you ask over and over again at what point do you think listeners will lose interest.
For someone already suffering from mental health issues, this kind of pressure starts to close the air around you. You scrutinize more and this leads to more pressure. Soon, you want to start all over again because there’s no way the audio can be as perfect as you want it to be. And that indecision feeds on your anxiety, and now you feel you can’t possibly be good enough because there’s so much to do to improve the audio.
You spend hours trying to achieve something that will never come, and these hours are time away from family, friends, loved ones, and company. Any company - the kind that can ease the pressure you’re putting on yourself.
And that’s just one facet of mental health’s impact on podcasters and those helping produce a show. Then there are the external pressures, too.
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Once your podcast is published, a new round of questioning begins when it comes to the analytics of your show. Take a look online at the majority of questions from podcasters around analytics, and the question is “Are they good enough?” and “Do these download numbers look good?”.
This is where the imposter syndrome that affects so many people dealing with mental health issues gets even worse. While you know you shouldn’t, you look at other podcasters in your niche, their success, their downloads, and then look at yours and tell yourself you can’t possibly be good enough because you’re nowhere near these other podcasters. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know if the success others are sharing is genuine; nor does it matter that we don’t know the processes they have, and the struggles they might have putting their show out. All we see is our perception of their success aligned with our “failure”.
Because of that, you question your content again and decide it’s not good enough (even though it probably is) and either make changes to the format that negatively impact your show, or give up altogether.
If you choose the latter route, you feel like a failure - something else you’ve tried that hasn’t worked, so now what? Where next for your life? For anyone that suffers from mental health issues, you know how damaging this mindset can be.
These are just two examples. There are many more - sponsors not looking to work with you, lack of interest from guests, lack of reviews, the amount of time to create a single episode from start to finish, etc.
It’s taxing, lonely, and potentially harmful work. So what can be done?
The Importance of Recognizing, and Talking About, Mental Health in Podcasting
As I mentioned at the start, I’ve been in the podcasting space for over 10 years. During that time, I’ve met and spoke with many podcasters who have shared their own mental health examples, and how that can sometimes be impacted by their podcasting endeavours.
This is in contrast to how the industry is talking about mental health as part of the bigger picture around podcasting. While there are lots of industry publications talking about the future of podcasting, advertising, technological advances, etc, there are very few (as far as I could see when doing some research) that are talking about mental health in the industry.
There are a lot of studies on how podcasting can benefit listenerswhen it comes to their mental health, but this isn’t the case when it comes to the creators behind the podcasts. And that’s more than a little disconcerting. Because podcasting can be such a lonely endeavour, this only exacerbates the issues someone might be going through that are multiplied when their anxieties about their podcast start to take over.
For those that are suffering, it’s often in silence. Even though it’s 2023, mental health still carries a stigma around it - according to the American Psychiatric Association, more than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help.A lot of this can come down to the fact that people are so unwilling to talk about it - going back to that belief they're weak, or there must be something wrong with them and only them. Or, worse of all, they believe it's "all in their head" because they've been told that often enough.
This is where talking about mental health, and encouraging open conversations around the topic industry-wide, can be an important step forward in recognizing the loneliness and fear that can come with podcasting. It’s a wonderful medium - a wonderful, rewarding medium. It encourages people to be creative, to connect with others, to create something that can be truly impactful on the lives of others who we may never meet.
We need to recognize that, and encourage the celebration around that while also recognizing people may be reaching out for help but don’t know how to ask. I know - the irony of people in a medium that relies on the spoken word for our content to be consumed not having the words to ask for help.
But if we can open up the conversation, and help podcasters and those in the podcasting space see the industry as the safe, welcoming place we know it can be to talk about their mental health, it will help remove that fear of saying the first word. And that can be the most important word a podcaster will ever say.
Articles on industry publication Podnews when searching for mental health
Search results for “mental health in podcasting study”
Great read Danny, I resonate so much! Appreciate you opening up about mental health in this space!