The comedian and “America’s Got Talent” judge Howie Mandel is opening up this week bout his mental health struggles as he detailed his ongoing battles with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.
“I’m living in a nightmare,” said Mandel, who first began experiencing OCD symptoms in his youth.
“I try to anchor myself,” the 65 year-old comic told People Magazine. “I have a beautiful family and I love what I do. But at the same time, I can fall into a dark depression I can’t get out of.”
Mandel has been married to his wife Terry for forty years, and they are parents to son Alex, 31, and daughters Riley, 28, and Jackie, 36 (who also suffers from anxiety and OCD).
“There isn’t a waking moment of my life when ‘we could die’ doesn’t come into my psyche,” Mandel explained. “But the solace I would get would be the fact that everybody around me was okay. It’s good to latch onto okay. But [during the pandemic] the whole world was not okay. And it was absolute hell.”
Mandel was finally diagnosed when he was in his 40s, but he didn’t go public with his mental health issues until 2006. He admitted this week that this was a difficult decision for him to make.
“My first thought was that I’ve embarrassed my family,” he recalled. “Then I thought, ‘Nobody is going to hire somebody who isn’t stable.’ Those were my fears.”
Mandel went on to say that he uses humor to get through the toughest times in life.
“My coping skill is finding the funny,” he said. “If I’m not laughing, then I’m crying. And I still haven’t been that open about how dark and ugly it really gets.”
In fact, Mandel believes that it’s his ability to find life in the darkness that has changed his life.
“Comedy saved me in a way,” said Mandel. “I’m most comfortable onstage. And when I don’t have anything to do, I turn inward – and that’s not good.”
Mandel can admit that the public may not understand his conditions.
“People see inconsistencies, especially in the media,” he said. “‘Oh he hugged someone’ or ‘he shook someone’s hand.’ I can shake your hand. But then I’d think I didn’t wash it well enough. And I’d go back and forth in a loop washing my hands for hours. I understand the funny in that. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly painful. And I don’t want to defend my mental health. I just want to maintain it.”
In the end, Mandel feels that speaking up now is “my life’s mission is to remove the stigma.”
“I’m broken,” he concluded. “But this is my reality. I know there’s going to be darkness again – and I cherish every moment of light.”