Howie Mandel on how mental illness is 'exploited and celebrated' in Hollywood: 'It ends up being pretty lucrative'

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Howie Mandel believes that, like physical fitness, mental health is a continuous "work in progress."

The 66-year-old host of America's Got Talent has been outspoken about his struggles with Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since reaching his 40s. "I didn't realize until really late in life how important [mental health treatment] was," he tells Yahoo Life. "Up until that time, there wasn't the title. I thought my struggle was my normal."

Mandel calls OCD "debilitating."

"What it is is these obtrusive thoughts ... you get so obsessed with them that you can't move forward," he shares. "You can't show up. You can't be productive. It's mind-boggling."

An additional struggle, according to Mandel, is the way OCD patients convince themselves that thoughts, no matter how false, are actually real. He admits to often dealing with "negative and dark thoughts," as well as being overly-focused on rituals. "Touch the doorknob ten times before you turn it to the left otherwise somebody's gonna die," he says. "[OCD] will inhibit every aspect of your life."

Mandel also says he's been late to commitments because of obsessive hand-washing, even though he knows he should stop. "I have too much of a compulsion to just keep going," he says. "It feels like you're losing your mind."

To encourage others to seek help managing their OCD symptoms, Mandel has partnered with NOCD, a website and service dedicated to treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. The partnership comes during May's Mental Health Awareness Month, a perfect time, according to Mandel, to consider therapy, medication and other treatments.

In a new partnership with NOCD, Howie Mandel hopes to bring awareness to obsessive-compulsive disorder and the treatment options available to those affected. (Photo: NOCD)
In a new partnership with NOCD, Howie Mandel hopes to bring awareness to obsessive-compulsive disorder and the treatment options available to those affected. (Photo: NOCD)

He also turns to exercise, meditation and breathing to manage his OCD symptoms and attempts to live a lifestyle that encourages his kids and grandkids to take care of their own mental health as well. "My children, more than one, have OCD," he shares. "They're just not embarrassed and they're informed. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to mental health."

As a comedian, actor and television host, Mandel says he's seen Hollywood "exploit and celebrate" mental illness. "Sometimes when you watch somebody going through a period of mental health issues, it ends up being pretty lucrative for gossip and social media."

He believes the incident at this year's Oscars, in which actor Will Smith approached the stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's hair loss, is an example of this.

"The Will Smith slap was horrible on so many levels," says Mandel. "But if you just want to talk about the mental health of it? I guarantee you that Will needs some mental help."

Incidents like this have added an extra level of worry to Mandel's life. "My biggest — first and foremost — love in show business has been, up until recently, stand-up [comedy]," he admits. "That's kind of gone because now, standing on the stage, I have fear. I have fear of saying something that'll get me cancelled or offending somebody so much that now the floodgate has been opened and OK for somebody to get up and hit me. But all violence stems from mental health."

Mandel hopes to see conversations surrounding mental health become more common, believing everyone would be better off if they were free to discuss their mental health in the same way they discuss physical illness or injuries. He encourages others to speak out about their mental struggles.

"Just tell everyone," he says. "Keep talking about it."

"I love when companies like NOCD come to life," he continues, "where it'll be just an app that you can download and talk to somebody ... when you have OCD, you're always thinking about what could happen ... if you're not feeling perfect, just go talk to somebody. Good or bad, just do it."

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