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Mental Health Podcasts: Sharing Stories, Reducing Stigma

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05/17/2024
akademie.dw.com

It’s often said that podcasting is a very intimate medium. It's like listening to a friend or friends talk to you, and you alone. Podcasts can be entertaining, educational, even comforting. For some people, they’re almost therapeutic. Mental health podcasts are no different, and in fact, the therapeutic role they can play might even be stronger given the nature of the topic.

But these kinds of podcasts are not therapy, they don’t replace professional counseling. What they do, when done well, is spark a conversation on a topic that is still taboo in many places. Mental health podcasts often feature personal stories and coping strategies and guide people to support so that they can better navigate the issues they or their loved ones might be facing. These podcasts can help destigmatize the subject of mental health. They can help people feel less alone.

A 2018 US study from Antioch University surveyed listeners of the popular "Mental Illness Happy Hour" podcast, which features conversations on mental health issues, trauma and therapy. Researchers found that those who had listened to the podcast longer had more positive feelings about others with mental health issues, more positive feelings about others seeking therapy for mental health issues and lower levels of stigma.

While these podcasts shouldn't be seen as replacements for therapy, they can be incredibly valuable for people who might not be able to get good information or professional help—be it out of fear, geography or a lack of knowledge or resources. 

Podcasts featuring personal stories about mental health struggles help people feel they are not alone

Neglect and stigma

Despite its importance to human flourishing, mental health is still one of the most neglected areas of public health. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), close to one billion people are living with a mental health disorder. Three million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol, and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide.

In some places, societal awareness and acceptance of mental health struggles have grown this century. But in others, strong stigma and a sense of shame remain the norm. Research from the WHO found that in low and middle-income countries more than 75% of people with mental, neurological and substance-use disorders receive no treatment for their condition at all.

Discrimination, punitive legislation and human rights abuses related to mental health conditions are still widespread in many places, despite efforts by international bodies and NGOs.

Topic demands care be taken  

Podcasts can be an effective tool to counter negative attitudes, a lack of understanding and shame around mental health issues. But those who are thinking about starting a mental health podcast should keep in mind some important considerations given the nature of the topic itself and the potential impact on listeners.

It is essential that the information presented on a mental health podcast is accurate, helpful and in line with current professional norms. Many podcasters are not trained mental health experts, so it’s crucial to carefully research topics using credible sources and have professionally qualified experts on the show. A mental health podcast is no place for amateur psychology and opinions not based on evidence. Remember the cardinal rule for reporters: do no harm.

Below are some reasons a mental health podcast can be effective and make a difference in the lives of listeners, who might feel they have nowhere else to turn. 

They’re anonymous and private

Since podcasts are usually listened to individually, people can learn about mental health topics. This can be important for those who feel uncomfortable discussing such issues openly or seeking counseling, or who fear a lack of acceptance or understanding from others.

They feature personal stories

Many mental health podcasts feature personal individuals who share their own stories about facing mental health challenges. Hearing the voice of someone relating their own struggles can help listeners feel less alone and provide a sense of connection. These stories also help break down stigma and increase understanding of what others are going through.

They educate and point out resources

These podcasts often provide valuable information, advice and strategies for managing mental health. They explain conditions in clear terms and give practical insight on coping mechanisms and therapy options. They can direct listeners where they can find out more or go to get help.

They feature experts

Interviews with experts, including psychologists, therapists and mental health advocates are common. The information is credible, professional and practical.

They build community

These podcasts can create a sense of community among listeners who have had similar experiences. Knowing that a person’s experience is shared by others can be very comforting and helps with mutual understanding.

Here is a very incomplete list of some well-regarded mental health podcasts.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour

A comedian interviews artists, friends and the occasional doctor. It’s geared towards anyone interested in or affected by depression, addiction and other mental challenges.

https://mentalpod.com/about-the-show

The Hilarious World of Depression

Conversations with top comedians and contributions from the audience who have dealt with the disease. The podcast brought lightness to a usually heavy topic and aimed to fight the stigma against the disease. Unfortunately, this show ended in 2020, but the past episodes online. 

https://www.hilariousworld.org/episodes

The Happiness Lab With Dr. Laurie Santos

A psychology professor from Yale, Santos looks at the latest scientific research to help people understand how to be happier and more fulfilled.

https://open.spotify.com/show/3i5TCKhc6GY42pOWkpWveG

The Trauma Therapist

Conversations between a mental health professional and leading experts in the field of trauma and mental health.

https://www.thetraumatherapistproject.com/

On Our Minds

Award-winning, student-led and student-produced podcast about the biggest mental health challenges young people face.

https://studentreportinglabs.org/on-our-minds/

Subscribe below for the PodCircle newsletter to help you get your podcast idea off the ground or take your show to the next level.

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Schedule19 Jun 2024