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Empowering Aging Canadians

Q&A with TV Personality Howie Mandel on Empowering Aging Canadians

Howie Mandel
Howie Mandel


When were you first diagnosed with OCD and ADHD?

The first time I was diagnosed, I was in my mid-forties. It was based on an ultimatum that my wife gave me to seek professional help. So, I went to therapy and got diagnosed.


What has your experience been like dealing with anxiety, ADHD, and OCD?

I deal with it every day, but I’ve acquired better coping skills. Each of the conditions is different. People always comment that I have a bit of OCD. You can’t have a little bit of OCD. It’s like a skipping record. You may have a weird intrusive thought go into your mind, and then it goes out, and you can move on with your day. I have thoughts that go in, and then it’s on a loop, and I can’t get out of them. It’s tough. But I’m now surrounded by really caring people and great professionals, and I’m medicated, and I do therapy, so I’m able to work my way through.


Mental health is a serious concern in older adults and seniors. What have you found most helpful in maintaining a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle while living with a mental health concern?

Well, I come from a generation with a huge stigma attached to mental health. People don’t seek the help they need. And sometimes the help we need is just to talk to somebody. We all go through things in life. You don’t have to have OCD or ADHD or even anxiety to have a mental health problem to have coping skills. How do you cope? All this is mental health. I wish people took care of their mental health the way they take care of their dental health. Even if you don’t have pain, you’ll go once a year or a couple of times a year to get your teeth cleaned or an X-ray. Secondly, I also find that the older you get, the fewer opportunities people give themselves to stay busy. For me, it’s the distraction. And that gets me through.

I’m busier now than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m doing America’s Got Talent: All-Stars. When that finishes, I’ll start doing the next season of AGT. I’m doing Canada’s Got Talent, a podcast with my daughter, touring, and producing other things. That may not work for everybody, but my little deterrent is the distraction and keeping busy. 


As a comedian, television personality, actor, and producer, how have your lifestyle and motivations changed as you age?

You learn, and you get a perspective. What was important to me in my thirties is not important to me now. And you realize that things you chase don’t matter, and it’s just the ability to get up and even chase something. It’s about doing, just doing. Nike has the best philosophy of life, aging, and everything, and that’s “Just Do It.” Just get up and do it. We all have goals — I want to be older, I want to be taller, I want to be richer, I want to be famous, and so on. And if you achieve any of these things you’re trying to achieve, they’re never the reason for your contentment or happiness. 

Your contentment and happiness come from within, not anything you achieve externally. At 27 years old, I was lucky to find standup comedy on a dare — April 17th, 1977. I got dared to get up at Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club. And when people say, “How do you make it?” and make it a euphemism for how you succeed in life. Making it was that night when I found something. To this day, if I have a show to do, I’m excited. And it’s not because the show I’m going to do tomorrow will make me more famous or even give me more money.

I’m excited about trying to hone what I’m going to do and make it good. And I love it. Some people like making little model airplanes and are excited about opening the box tomorrow and doing that. It’s just about finding a passion. You can’t just let life happen. You’ve got to make it happen. There’s a freedom to age that you didn’t have because you were put on a path by your parents, culture, and norms. You are the master of your own domain, and being that, you have less concern about what other people think as an aging human being. When you’re in school, you want the same sneakers as everybody else; drive the car that makes you look cool. At 67, you shouldn’t need that anymore. And then you realize, how do I satisfy myself? How do I make myself content? What’s an exciting thing I can do today? And don’t look to others to make you happy.


What motivates you to advocate for and help inspire aging Canadians dealing with mental health concerns and life’s daily stressors?

I’m part of a campaign in Canada, Bell Let’s Talk, and that’s the first step. I really believe that’s the first step. And I believe that aging Canadians are more apt to be stigmatized because they don’t feel good and may have a mental health problem. I don’t call it mental illness; I call it mental health. 

Just like you’d have no problem if you got up in the middle of the night and found out your back was out — you’d go to a chiropractor, or you’d go to a doctor. But if you get up in the morning and can’t get out of bed because you’re just so down, or you have stress, can’t just function, and can’t be productive. So people don’t call a therapist or don’t talk to their doctor, don’t talk to a significant other, or don’t talk to a friend. 

So that’s the first step, just talk. Just open up that door. And if that door doesn’t open by the first person, you talk or just keep talking. And you know what? We’re all in this together. When I got diagnosed, I was even embarrassed about being diagnosed. And I accidentally talked about being diagnosed. I thought I was in a commercial break on the Howard Stern Show, and it ended up being broadcast, and I was devastated. And when I went downstairs, the first person came up to me and said, “Are you Howie Mandel?” And I said, “Yeah.” And they said, “We heard you on the radio.” And I was devastated.

I thought, “This is the end of my life, world, and family. I just destroyed everything.” And then, before I could say anything and wasn’t looking at him, he said, “me too.” And I went, “What is me too?” He goes, “Well, I heard you have these mental health struggles.” And he went, “me too.” And this is before email. And then, after that, I got a flood of mail. And even now, people are always on Twitter, my social media, and wherever. So whether it’s a journalist like you, I become part of the conversation and realize everybody has an issue. There isn’t a time in your life when you won’t have a mental health issue if you’re human. You may not have OCD, or you may not have ADHD, but you’re going to feel depressed. You may get anxious about something, and you’ll always need help and reach out for that.


Would you say there are any misconceptions about mental health in older adults?

In our generation, my generation, mental illness, even the word mental, has a stigma. They think it’s embarrassing, but I don’t. I think that’s the misconception that it’s embarrassing to admit that you have a mental health problem. And if you do have a mental health problem, you need to be institutionalized. And there’s nothing wrong with being institutionalized if that’s how far it’s going. But having a mental health problem is the same as having a physical one. People get diagnosed all the time if they have pain somewhere or if they’re losing weight, but for some reason, if their mind hurts, they don’t. They keep it quiet and keep it a secret.


What are some of the best mental health resources for older adults and seniors to use?

Well, you have to start with the people, your first resource, and whoever you’re around, whether it’s a significant other, child, caregiver, or doctor. Just be open and start the conversation.

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