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Howie Mandel & Depression: No Laughing Matter

By Linda Childers August 4, 2014

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    Howie Mandel wishes he’d known about his depression and OCD earlier in life. And he wants to make sure we make mental health care as common as dental care.

    Whether he’s touring the country as a stand-up comic, filming hidden pranks on his television show Deal With It, or appearing as a judge on America’s Got Talent, Howie Mandel is used to eliciting laughs.

    Yet the Canadian-born entertainer gets serious about the need to normalize brain disorders like depression and anxiety, putting them on a par with other medical conditions.

    “We take care of our physical health and even our dental health, but we don’t take care of our mental health,” he points out.

    Mandel has become more vocal about erasing the stigma surrounding depression and other psychological disorders. He talks passionately about the need for more mental health resources in schools and workplaces.

    He’s firmly convinced that if better information had been available when he was a kid, he would have been far less likely to develop depression.

    “If I had known as a child what I know now, then maybe I wouldn’t have felt so isolated,” Mandel reflects. “And sadly, there hasn’t been a lot of headway made.”

    Growing up in a Toronto suburb in the 1960s, Mandel faced frequent ridicule from his classmates. He was the quirky kid with a short attention span and a colossal fear of germs.

    When he walked around school with his shoes untied because he didn’t want to touch the dirty laces, for example, he was an object of derision. The teasing left him sad and unsettled. He recognized he was different from his peers, but didn’t understand why. He has said he felt like a misfit at a time when he just wanted to be like everybody else.

    In those days before labels and evaluations, the best anyone could say was that he was “suffering from ‘Howie,’” as he puts it.

    Now he knows his inability to sit still and pay attention is the result of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He knows his dread of contamination is mysophobia, an anxiety disorder that’s related to his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

    (Mandel’s trademark fist bump and his bald pate both grew out of his germ phobia: He avoids having to shake anyone’s hand, and he’s said he feels “cleaner” with his head shaved.)

    Success story

    Luckily for the young Mandel, he found compensating strengths and family support. Mandel has said his parents accepted his differences and helped him to manage his depression. He also discovered at an early age that he enjoyed being the center of attention by making people laugh.

    “My mother got my sense of humor, even when I was a kid. I would just do things that tickled my fancy in the moment, and she would ask me who I was entertaining. and I’d say, ‘Well, me,’” Mandel recalls in his 2009 memoir Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me.

    In high school, Mandel gained a reputation as the class clown and a prankster. And he met the love of his life, Terry, whom he married in 1980.

    After an over-the-top prank got him expelled—the story is that he solicited bids on a building addition while impersonating a school board member—Mandel found work as a carpet salesman.

    After hours, he pursued stand-up comedy. He discovered his passion when he got up on stage during amateur night at a club. Making people laugh made him feel good.

    Mandel says performing helps calm him and creates a “comfort zone” where irrational thoughts are muted. Humor—and the ability to poke fun at his idiosyncrasies—is one of his tools to stay emotionally healthy.

    By the late 1970s, Mandel was entertaining audiences at the Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto with his brand of antic humor. He started performing at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles after a trip to California, which led to appearances on the game show Make Me Laugh and other TV shows.

    Soon Mandel was touring as a comic, even opening for Diana Ross in Las Vegas. He snagged some acting gigs and voiceovers, most famously Gizmo in the Gremlins movies and several characters on Muppet Babies.

    His six-year run as Dr. Wayne Fiscus on the hit TV show St. Elsewhere, which debuted in 1982, put him on the celebrity map. Gen Y-ers, however, may fondly remember Mandel’s animated children’s show Bobby’s World, which borrowed a voice he’d been doing in his nightclub act for years. The Emmy-nominated series ran for most of the 1990s.

    As his career flourished, only those closest to Mandel saw how he struggled to keep his symptoms in check. Although his rational mind understands that contact with everyday germs won’t truly harm him, he travels with a black light in order to locate and neutralize microbes in hotel rooms.

    OCD leaves Mandel feeling he has no control over his surroundings or his own mind. He talks about going back to his house 30 times to check that he locked the door, and intrusive, irrational thoughts that ratchet up his anxiety levels: “It can be hard to shut off the ‘what ifs?’ and my feelings of constant fear.”

    In his book, he points out that most people know what it’s like “to have a little anxiety in their lives, to feel nervous or worried. But there have been times through my life where my anxiety has been paralyzing, and that’s where the coping skills I learned in therapy have helped.”

    Help wanted

    Mandel has been in talk therapy for over a decade, exploring “everything from traditional psychoanalysis to cognitive therapy.” He’s also pursued psychopharmacotherapy options, experimenting with different medications to see what best controls his symptoms.

    “If the first thing doesn’t work, there is another alternative, and if that doesn’t work there is another,” Mandel says. “People should know there are ways to make their life better. They don’t have to be ashamed or suffer in silence.”

    While he hopes that speaking out about his experiences will encourage others to seek help, he avoids discussing specifics of his treatment plan because “there’s no one answer for every person.”

    Even treatments that worked for him in the past need to be re-evaluated when they’re no longer effective.

    “Managing your symptoms is a lifelong commitment and you need to have open communication with your doctor to let them know how you’re feeling, what’s working and what’s not,” he notes.

    Although Mandel has admitted he waited until his 40s to get professional help—he’d finally reached a point where his symptoms were so debilitating he couldn’t manage anymore—he’s become a strong proponent of psychotherapy and medication as needed.

    “I really believe that everyone out there could benefit from therapy, whether they are dealing with relationship or job issues, or stress or depression,” he says.

    It’s been true for his own family. Things that other parents take for granted—sitting down to play quietly after dinner, or taking their kids into a public rest room—have been hard for Mandel. He calls his wife “a saint” for sticking with him and supporting him.

    “My wife and three kids have had to cope through the years with my idiosyncrasies,” Mandel told USA Today. “All of us have gone through therapy.”


    Mandel shares such information freely these days. But it wasn’t until the late 1990s, when Mandel was a guest on shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show, that he first spoke publicly about his psychiatric challenges.

    Stern made a joke about Mandel not wanting to touch the doorknob of the studio, and one thing led to another. Soon, Mandel was telling not only Stern, but also his millions of listeners, that he grapples with OCD.

    “The fact that I told Howard Stern on the air that I had a serious mental issue and was seeing a therapist was like revealing my biggest, darkest secret,” Mandel recalls. “I remember leaving the studio feeling anxious and wondering what the consequences of my admission would be. Would anyone hire me? How would this affect my wife and kids?”

    Outside the studio, Mandel encountered a man who had just heard his revelation. To Mandel’s surprise, the man admitted he also wrestled with OCD.

    “That was the first time I realized there were others who shared my pain,” Mandel says. Since then, “I’ve learned that depression and anxiety affect everyone. And yet it’s sad that so many people still suffer alone and in silence.”

    Disclosure certainly didn’t hurt Mandel professionally. After hosting the phenomenally popular game show Deal or No Deal on NBC from 2005 to 2010, he moved over to become a judge on the network’s America’s Got Talent reality show.

    By 2009, he had stars on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto.

    He continues to tour North America doing live comedy shows, and last year he became executive producer of the hidden-camera show Deal With It. He is also working on two documentaries that reflect his roots: Gone South: How Canada Invented Hollywood and Being Canadian.

    With his advocate’s hat on, Mandel has lobbied on Capitol Hill to draw attention to Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. He champions programs like one at a school his son attended in California, where time was set aside each day for the children to express their thoughts and worries to a professional counselor.

    “We take children in annually for visits with their pediatrician and dentist, so why is mental health also not recognized as an ongoing need for prevention, assessment and care?” he asks.

    “Not only do children need to be assessed for mental health, but an overall system needs to be implemented to benefit every American, through every stage of their life.”

    Mandel notes that the more we can talk openly about mental health issues, the more we will chip away at stigma. But he acknowledges it can be difficult to do.

    “Most people think nothing of telling their employer they need to leave work early for a dentist appointment,” Mandel says. “But the thought of telling your boss that you’re leaving early to see a therapist makes people feel anxious, and they worry it may jeopardize their jobs.”

    He adds jokingly, “Maybe instead of saying they have an appointment with their therapist, it would be easier if they said they needed to take off a few hours for a little Howie Mandel.”

    Howie Mandel’s 3 Tips To Deal With Depression & OCD
    Howie Mandel’s 5 Best Tips For Dealing With Depression, ADHD & Anxiety

    Printed as “No Laughing Matter”, Summer 2014

    Howie Mandel on Mental Health: ‘You Need To Find Coping Skills’

    Howie Mandel and his son Alex are appearing around the country and talking about how their family deals with issues relating to OCD and ADHD. “My OCD is not any better than it’s ever been,” says Howie in an interview with the Montreal Gazette. “But I am under control and I’m medicated. I’m fine and I’m functioning.”

    “I have OCD as well,” Alex says. “Our conditions don’t get better – it’s just a matter of us learning to cope.”

    Howie says he and Alex are appearing to open up a dialogue about mental illness, which still carries a stigma. He also shares that he feels mental health is the key to world peace.

    “No matter where I’ve been, what life has really taught me is that we all have a cross to bear,” Howie shared in the article. “You don’t have to have OCD, depression or anxiety to recognize the importance of mental health. We are all affected and we all need to find the coping skills to be the most productive, happy people we can be.”

    Read the full article here.

    Written by

    Adam Wahlberg

    Founder of Think Piece Publishing

    Howie Mandel

    Apologies to Michelle Obama, but it was Howie Mandel who made the fist bump famous. The comedian and Deal or No Deal host favors the low-touch greeting in deference to his germaphobia, one symptom of his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Mandel, 54, who is married and has three children, reveals details of his lifelong struggles with OCD and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in his new memoir, Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me.

    Without wisecracks, Mandel shared with Everyday Health what he’s learned about coping with the combination of OCD and ADHD.

    Everyday Health: What OCD behavior did you exhibit as a child?

    Howie Mandel: I was always incredibly obsessed with germs and cleaning and taking shower after shower after shower. Even when I was very young, I wouldn’t tie my shoelaces because they had touched the ground. I had continuous repetitive thoughts that I couldn’t get past. As a child, my mind was a lot busier than I was.

    Everyday Health: You write that your mind ‘goes places, and I cannot bring it back.’ What’s an example?

    Howie Mandel: A thought that enters my head — good, bad, or indifferent — isn’t any different from anybody else’s. The problem is, it’s like a sticking record, and that thought continuously goes through and through like a loop. And I have a compulsion to act on it. The simplest example I can give you is: I don’t think I locked the door, so I go back and I check the door like everyone else. And then I still don’t think I locked the door, so I go back and check the door again. And I still think I didn’t lock the door. And I can go back, like, 30 times. Intellectually, I know that I’ve checked the door 29 times before, but I can’t stop myself from going back and checking it again and again and again.

    Everyday Health: How were your conditions diagnosed?

    Howie Mandel: Until I was diagnosed, it was just called Howie. As an adult, I went to a therapist for other reasons, and I told him how I deal with things. And he said, “Y’know, that’s OCD.” Really? What is OCD? I had no idea. And the name makes sense: I’m obsessive, and I’m compulsive, and obviously, this is a disorder.

    Everyday Health: How do you manage your condition?

    Howie Mandel: For me, there is no cure. It’s always management and coping skills, the specifics of which I won’t go into. Because everybody has a specific body makeup, chemistry, need – whatever – and what may work for me may not work for someone else.

    The good news is that there is a lot of help out there. You can cope. But you have to be willing to experiment. I’ve taken things and done things – cognitive therapy or whatever – and if one thing doesn’t work, they go, “Let’s try this,” and, lo and behold, “this” works. There’s a veritable cornucopia of things that can be done, and that’s what people should know. I’ve been dealing with this for years, and I’ve done tons and tons of things and will continue to do many, many things.

    Everyday Health: Even that sounds a little obsessive.

    Howie Mandel: Really, as much as I make fun of it, this stops your everyday living. So if I want to move on and I want to function and even do this interview, I have to do things. There are days that are worse than others, and if I can’t function, then I have to make a call or let somebody know and figure out how I can get things done.

    Everyday Health: How does OCD influence your comedy?

    Howie Mandel: I don’t think it affects my comedy as much as that’s just who I am. It’s certainly not a gift. If this was a gift, I’d certainly want to return it. It’s who I am. I may be more passionate about my comedy because that’s the one place where I feel comfortable – because I’m in the now. Performing is the only time of the day when I have to really force every ounce of concentration into whatever’s happening in that moment. Whereas any other time, I can kind of sit and worry about what has happened, what might happen, and get into that vicious circle of dark thoughts.

    Everyday Health: What about the comedy bit where you put a rubber glove over your head?

    Howie Mandel: That fact that I had a rubber glove is related to my OCD, because I don’t want to touch anything. The joke that I did by pulling it over my head has nothing to do with OCD.

    Everyday Health: How does OCD affect your family?

    Howie Mandel: Hopefully, it has made them a lot more tolerant than they would be if they were living with someone who didn’t have it. When you have this, you become obsessed with this. I spend a lot of time worried or agitated or intolerant, so I’m tough to be with. I have a tough time being with myself, so I can only imagine what it’s like to live in a house with me. But they are understanding and patient.

    But by the same token, given the ADHD, I can’t focus for any length of time. It’s easier for me to talk than to listen. I lose interest. Part of the normal conversation in my house is, “Here’s what happened today …” And they’ll be talking for two seconds and go, “Howie. Howie!” If you heard an audiotape of our regular conversation, there’s a constant interjection of “Howie” to regain my attention.

    Everyday Health: Was it challenging to write a book about your OCD?

    Howie Mandel: Crazy challenging. In fact, Josh Young, who’s co-credited, deserves a lot of thanks for focusing me and saying, “Hey, we just need another two pages today. C’mon, two more pages. Call me back at 6,” or whatever. It was really hard. It’s the most intense, focused work I’ve ever done in my life.

    Everyday Health: Is traveling difficult with OCD?

    Howie Mandel: Yeah, and it’s my whole life. I’m always in a hotel room and I spend a good portion of my day setting it up so it’s comfortable for me. Whether that means making paths out of towels so I don’t touch the carpet or removing the comforters or just not touching things. Even sitting on a plane with a bunch of other people – it’s really hard for me. But I have to function and I have to live. My family needs to be supported. I like to pursue my life. But I can see how many people with these issues just lock themselves away.

    Everyday Health: You initially shaved your head for a role. Does it make you feel clean?

    Howie Mandel: The reason I kept it is that I started to realize I felt cleaner. I realized that the first thing that ever felt dirty or that needed a shower was my hair. I don’t feel that anymore. It’s just so comforting. It’s easy to maintain, and I think it’s related to whatever my issues are, so I keep it.

    Everyday Health: You write in the book that your wife thinks it’s sexy.

    Howie Mandel: That helps. But as much as that’s exciting, it’s also disheartening to think, “What have I been up to this point?”

    Everyday Health: What advice would you give someone who might have OCD?

    Howie Mandel: Be open about it. If you have even an inkling you might have it, go speak to your doctor. Let’s remove the stigma. There isn’t anybody out there who doesn’t have a mental health issue, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or how to cope with relationships. Having OCD is not an embarrassment anymore – for me. Just know that there is help and your life could be better if you go out and seek the help.

    More My Life Interviews

    • Elisabeth Hasselbeck: “The View” co-host brings attention to celiac disease, the digestive condition that she’s been living with for years.
    • Teri Garr: The celebrated actress discusses her life with multiple sclerosis.
    • Jill McGill: A professional golfer who doesn’t let allergies keep her out of the game.

    “I Have a Tough Time Being with Myself.”

    I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as an adult, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have them.

    Back in the 1960s, when I was growing up, my symptoms didn’t have a name, and you didn’t go to the doctor to find out. So, in my case, they were called “Howie Mandel.”

    As I grew older, those quirks found their way into my comedy. Deal or No Deal works nicely with my ADHD symptoms. I show up, meet the contestants, and move around the set. I’m not stuck behind a pedestal reading trivia questions. I’ve always had problems sitting still and listening for long periods of time. The show spares me these challenges. I can live in the moment. It’s like a standup act.

    Doing a scripted television series is tough, because my disorders make it difficult to write or read a script. I can do it — I was in St. Elsewhere back when — but it’s challenging.

    Thankfully, my parents accepted all of my quirks and differences. I have the best family — everyone shows me nothing but love, support, and strength. Even with all that, it can be hard — sometimes terrifying and dark — to manage the symptoms of my disorders.

    I have a tough time being with myself, so I can imagine what it’s like to live with me. I’ve been married to my wife, Terry, for 30 years — she was my high-school sweetheart — and, God knows, she’s patient with me. If you asked her about my ADHD, she would say it’s difficult to deal with. She can’t get through a conversation with me without having to reel me back in. Every talk we have is peppered with, “Howie, Howie! Are you paying attention?” I would love to have an adult conversation someday. My wife and children have been through therapy because of the problems my disorders have caused.

    When our children were young, it was hard for them to corner me and to share their day. One of the great pleasures of having children is spending one-on-one time with them. Sadly, I could do that for only a few minutes at a time.

    I’d never say that ADHD is a gift or a blessing. And if someone says it is a gift, I’d love to return it.

    For me, there is no cure. I will always have to manage symptoms and develop coping skills. I take medication and I do psychotherapy, but I won’t tell you the specifics of my treatment. People might read it and think, “Well, that works for Howie. I’m gonna take that and I’m going to do that.”

    The thing about mental health is that there isn’t one answer for everyone. Everybody has his own brain and body chemistry, and what works for me may not work for you. Managing symptoms is a lifetime commitment. Certain treatments that worked for me a few years back don’t work now. You have to be willing to experiment. If one thing doesn’t work, another will. There are alternatives and there are answers.

    If you suspect that you have ADHD, you should find out — get diagnosed and get help. Your life will be much better for doing so.

    I have to admit that, at times, I’ve been afraid of being labeled “crazy.” In middle and corporate America, if you say, “I need Thursday afternoon off to go to the dentist,” nobody raises an eyebrow. If you say, “I need an hour off Wednesday morning to run to the psychiatrist,” your coworkers may not show their surprise and disapproval, but you may experience blowback later on. They might see you in a different light. You go twice a year to get your teeth cleaned, but God forbid that you go to a counselor and ask, “Is it normal that I’m reacting this way or thinking these thoughts?”

    After I impulsively revealed that I have OCD on a talk show, I was devastated. I often do things without thinking. That’s my ADHD talking. Out in public, after I did the show, people came to me and said, “Me, too.” They were the most comforting words I’ve ever heard. Whatever you’re dealing with in life, know that you’re not alone.

    Adults should know that it’s never too late to seek help for ADHD. I hope that sharing my story encourages people to get that help. I didn’t let ADHD prevent me from achieving my goals, and neither should you.


    Updated on April 16, 2018

    Howie Mandel On Honesty & Mental Health: “It’s Funny. But It’s Tough”

    Need a few good laughs today? Check out the latest Howie Mandel segment on The Ellen DeGeneres Show!

    Mandel, who’s been dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) all his life, released his autobiography Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me last month and appeared on the show today to talk with Ellen about the book (including the stigma of mental illness, how he was afraid it would affect his career and embarrass his family, and how he had to come to terms with revealing such personal information to the public) as well as thank her for past “OCD-related” gifts she’s given him and receive a new one that Ellen hopes will help him with future book signings 🙂

    Aside from the way Mandel candidly speaks about his mental health issues, I think my favorite part of the segment is what he says about the mixture of humor and mental illness:

    “I talk about it, and it’s funny. There’s a lot of funny. It’s funny. But it’s tough. But it’s funny. But it’s tough, right?”

    (Trust me, the message loses something in translation – you REALLY have to watch the clip to get the full effect 🙂 )

    Mental health issues are obviously serious issues – like any other illness – but I’m a fervent believer that humor works wonders in terms of coping and even healing.

    You can watch the Ellen clip online, and be sure to visit Mandel’s website to learn more about Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me.

    Howie Mandel On Honesty & Mental Health: “It’s Funny. But It’s Tough”

    Howie Mandel discusses mental health issues at Banff

    BANFF, Alta. – Canadian funnyman Howie Mandel had them rolling in the aisles in Banff this week, even though the subject was really no laughing matter.

    The actor, comic and game show host received the award of distinction at a ceremony at the Banff World Media Festival — an annual gathering of TV writers, producers, broadcasters and stars.

    “I have mental health issues as it is and as I sit and talk to you I am medicated so the highs and the lows aren’t really bothering me. I’m just floating in the middle,” acknowledged Mandel, 55, in a question and answer session before a large audience.

    “I am tortured but I came to this game pretty tortured,” he said, then smiled and asked: “Why are you laughing at me when I said I’m tortured?”

    Mandel has both obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and has written about both in his autobiography “Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me.”

    But Mandel finds it therapeutic to talk about his upbringing in the Toronto area where he says he was always a loner and had no friends.

    “I weighed 89 pounds and my voice didn’t change and I didn’t shave and I looked like a girl. I could stand in the ladies room and brush my hair. That’s how I met my wife. Second date she found out I was a guy,” he said with his trademark laugh. “I don’t want to touch things. I was always nervous and neurotic and afraid.”

    “I wouldn’t tie my shoelaces at school. If mine came undone, I wouldn’t pick them up to retie them because the laces were on the floor,” Mandel said.

    “I’d be angry. I would be anxious and angry and then I’d go home and take a shower until my Mom would say it was dinner time. I would be in the shower for hours and I’d use every towel.”

    His mental health issues don’t appear to have held him back in his career. He did gigs at Yuk Yuk’s comedy club and spent six seasons on “St. Elsewhere.” He also began hosting “Deal or No Deal” which was difficult for a man who doesn’t want to shake hands for fear of germs.

    “I always felt rejected. Even today you feel you just always want to keep working. You think tomorrow is going to be your last day,” he said.

    “I have dark times. It inhibits everything I do on a day-to-day basis. Every waking moment it’s part of who I am,” Mandel added.

    “How does it affect my work? It affects every day and I think about it. Right now I’m hoping you don’t have any viruses,” he said with a chuckle.

    Mandel credits the support of Terry, his wife of 35 years, for helping him deal with his problems.

    “It’s hard to go through that with anybody who has mental health issues. It’s hard to live with somebody like me.”

    It was Terry who told him he should become the host of “Deal or No Deal,” something he thought would end his career.

    They met in high school and married in 1980. They have two daughters and a son.

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