plus 4 more featuring music or comedy (or both).
Podcasts have got me through some tough times in recent years. Hearing a good podcast episode can bring with it the feeling of being understood and supported, I think, without the pressure to respond. If we are feeling low or anxious then podcasts demand very little of us.
“[In LA] I had the idea for the How to Fail with Elizabeth Day podcast…I had been downloading a lot of podcasts, because listening to music post-breakup made me feel sad, but listening to nothing made me feel alone.”Elizabeth Day, How to Fail
Listening requires less attention than reading, but engages the brain more than television. Playing podcasts can motivate us to complete activities we might find challenging – such as cooking, housework, or gardening – or we can play them while we are running. Podcast conversations connect us with other people at times of self-isolation, a term that has taken on a new meaning this year, despite being a symptom – and a self-preservation tactic – for social anxiety sufferers long before coronavirus. Such podcasts have the added benefit of challenging self-stigma too. Hearing others open up about their experiences of mental illness helped me to find the self-acceptance, courage and language needed to share my own.
These are my favourite podcasts featuring mental health content, plus four more that don’t. I have included my personal selection of the top-ranking episodes and their runners up; and, since they all feature authors, poets or lyricists, I’ve added some book recommendations too.
1. Made of Human with Sofie Hagen
Winner: Harriet Dyer – We’re all the weirdos on the bus.
Sofie Hagen talks to fellow comedian Harriet Dyer about making comedy from mental health issues, childhood abuse, bereavement, being bipolar, creating community, (literally) thinking she was Kat Slater from Eastenders, establishing boundaries and having a lovely home-life.
Runner up: Jo Brand – I was surprised the heroin addict was unfaithful.
Sofie talks to comedian and former psychiatric nurse Jo Brand about mental health, heroin addict boyfriends, drugs, depression, psychopaths, politics, teenage mentality, Scandinavian dramas and friendship.
Read: Born Lippy by Jo Brand; Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen.
Bryony Gordon’s Mad World.
Winner: Matt Haig.
Bryony Gordon is a journalist, broadcaster, author and marathon runner. I referenced her latest memoir, called Glorious Rock Bottom, in my essay on running and sobriety. In this episode Bryony talks to fellow author Matt Haig about his own memoir Reasons to Stay Alive.
Runner up: Fearne Cotton.
Because Fearne is such a skilled interviewer herself, it is refreshing to hear her on a podcast as the interviewee (she also makes an appearance on Elizabeth Day’s podcast How to Fail, see below). She has come out of the mental illness ‘closet’ slowly but surely and as a well-known mental health ambassador she continues to share her struggles publicly.
Listen next: Frank Bruno, Jade, Mandy Stevens, Mel C.
Read: Reasons to stay Alive by Matt Haig; Happy by Fearne Cotton.
3. How to Fail with Elizabeth Day
Winner: Marian Keynes.
Marian and Elizabeth discuss many things, including writing, feminism, low self-esteem, depression, alcoholism and sobriety.
Runner up: Lemn Sissay.
Poet, author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay talks about searching for his birth family, the power of human resilience and why he gave up drinking.
Read: My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay; Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes.
Listen next: Black Sheep by BBH (featuring Marian Keyes) and Katie Piper’s Extraordinary People, whose guests talk about how they turned incredible adversity into powerful positivity, just as Katie did herself.
4. Happy Place
There are so many brilliant guests on Fearne’s podcast it’s impossible to choose a winner. Here is a selection: Bryony Gordon; Catherine Gray (author of The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober); Alicia Keys, Davina McCall; Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert; Glennon Doyle (author of Untamed); Megan Jayne Crabbe AKA bodyposipanda; Stephen Fry; journliast and memoirist Poorna Bell; and Russell Brand.
5. The Happiness Lab
Yale professor Dr Laurie Santos takes the listener through the latest scientific research and shares some surprising and inspiring stories that will forever alter the way you think about happiness. Start with Episode 10: How to Be a Better Ally, in which Laurie looks at the psychology underpinning the reluctance to act in the face of injustice and the ways in which we can match our moral beliefs with concrete actions.
6. What Makes Us Human with Jeremy Vine
In this BBC Radio 2 podcast series, guests deliver their thoughts on the essence of human existence, reflecting on their own lives.
Winner: Akala (on art).
Runner up: Stephen Fry (on language).
7. Have You Heard George’s Podcast?
George the Poet delivers a fresh take on inner city life through a mix of storytelling, music and fiction. Popcorn (episode 2) is especially good.
8. Song Exploder
9. Distraction Pieces Podcast
The Distraction Pieces Podcast is a weekly conversation between Scroobius Pip and a wide range of guests, discussing all sorts of things. His conversation with wordsmith Kate Tempest is wonderfully deep, made all the more interesting because they know each other personally.
10. The Adam Buxton Podcast
These “rambly conversations” are described by comedian and host Adam Buxton as being “sometimes funny, sometimes more serious with funny bits.” They are very, very funny.
Music and comedy…
11. Hip Hop Saved My Life
A comedy podcast about hip hop presented by comedian Romesh Ranganathan. Start with Kano, Little Simz or Tinie.
Under the Skin with Russell Brand
I adore Russell Brand – and I love his podcast. I’m not sure why this hasn’t made it on to the list, actually. Maybe because its in a league of its own. It does communicate some complex ideas, which is why it might not be the easiest of listening if you are struggling with your mental health – unless you would appreciate the intellectual stimulation. Under the Skin asks: what’s beneath the surface – of people we admire, of the ideas that define our time, of the history we are told. Russell is an excellent host and conversationalist – and if you’re not already subscribed to his Youtube channel, watch this endorsement of his podcast by Eckart Tolle. Among its distinguished guests are Brené Brown, David Eagleman, Elizabeth Gilbert, Julia Cameron, Marianne Williamson, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, Sam Harris, Sharon Salzberg, and fellow comedians Mae Martin, Simon Amstell and Ruby Wax.