"Star Trek" actor Wil Wheaton thinks of his depression as an “obnoxious” person who follows him around and chides him about everything he’s “ever regretted doing.”
If that description sounds unexpected, even irreverent, that’s the point. Wheaton is among the celebrities and comedians interviewed as part of a popular local podcast called the Hilarious World of Depression — a weekly show designed to use humor to take the mystery and stigma out of the mental disorder.
“I think there’s [a] hunger to get beyond the idea that you’re not supposed to talk about it,” said John Moe, the show’s host, who learned of his own depression in his mid-30s and had a brother who died by suicide in 2007.
Leaders at HealthPartners, the Bloomington-based heath care organization, agreed and decided to sponsor the podcast when Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media launched it last year. The support was part of a broader HealthPartners “Make It OK’’ campaign to reduce the stigma that prevents people from seeking mental health care when they first realize they need it.
“What’s more destigmatizing than laughter or humor?” asked Marna Canterbury, director of community health at HealthPartners’ Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater.
The show, in turn, promoted the Make It OK campaign. Visits to the campaign website tripled and a surge of volunteers emerged to provide video testimonials on the site about mental illness.
In addition to Wheaton, the show has featured comedians such as Dick Cavett and Andy Richter. This week’s episode features John Green.
Some are celebrities with the means to afford good mental health care, while others struggle. Moe recalled comedian Sam Grittner describing taking the subway to an ER in New York City after feeling suicidal because he couldn’t afford an ambulance.
The common thread is that comedians “sort of cut through the fog and connect with people,” Moe said. Their “bread and butter is getting people talking about things that they don’t normally talk about — that they think, but have never verbalized.”
The comedians reveal a complex relationship — how depression might contribute to their understanding of the world and their artistic talents. But Moe said it’s also clear that treatment is essential and that celebrity is no cure-all.
“A big theme that started to present itself in this season is that you can’t succeed your way out of depression,” he said. “You can’t achieve your way out of this thing.”