OCD in Pop Culture: Howie Mandel

OCD in Pop Culture: Howie Mandel

It’s 2006, and Howie Mandel is on the Howard Stern show to discuss the game show he hosts, “Deal or No Deal.” Maybe you’ve heard of him, he is now a well-known judge on “America’s Got Talent.” Perhaps you know him as the guy who only ever bumps fists with contestants and never shakes hands. That’s because Howie Mandel has OCD, and publicly admitted it—by accident—during this interview with Howard Stern (Schulte, 2018).


The interview went well enough. But when it was over and Mandel went to leave, he was made fun of for not wanting to touch the doorknob. He became embarrassed and, without thinking, said, “Howard, I go to a psychiatrist and have obsessive compulsive disorder and you have to open the door or I’m going to pass out” (Schulte, 2018). What Howie hadn’t realized, however, was that the show was still on the air. Mandel had spent a long time keeping his battle with OCD private. In this moment, he felt that he’d just ruined his reputation and disappointed his family.


Imagine this for a second: a successful and well-known television personality, making millions of dollars, in a private battle with a debilitating disease, and in fear that his life will be ruined over simply acknowledging this battle publicly. If someone as successful as Howie Mandel was afraid to come forward and speak about his OCD, what does that mean for the millions of other people suffering from the same illness? And what does that say about the nature of the public perception of OCD? Despite the significant hindrance that OCD has on everyday life and social functioning, those with OCD take on average 7.5 years to seek the treatment that they need (Stewart, 2019). This speaks not only to the misinformation spread about OCD and a misaligned perception of which pattern of behaviors signify OCD, it also speaks to the deep sense of shame many OCD sufferers feel and inability to seek help because of these feelings of shame and inadequacy.


Though Howie felt that he’d made a grave error by revealing his OCD, moments after he’d left the building after the interview, he states that a man came up to him and “told him he had just heard him discussing his issues on the radio” (Schulte, 2018). Howie says that the man “whispered in my ear, ‘Me too’…I realized I wasn’t alone…and then I started getting mail and letters from people. So, it turned out to be a good thing and a great moment” (Schulte, 2018).


Howie had felt so alone in his struggles and so suffocated by his OCD that he lived in a silent hell, not allowing himself to speak up about it for fear of judgment. Yet, in that moment of absolute depression after he felt that he’d publicly embarrassed himself, he was met with the realization that he’d never really been alone after all. That there were other people suffering from the same condition, other people just as terrified as he was. Suddenly, his horrible moment wasn’t so horrible after all. 


Therefore, this moment serves as an example of the importance of speaking out and dismantling the stigma behind OCD. If this accidental reveal of his OCD was so valuable for Mandel and those who heard the interview, it can be so much more powerful if people actively work to properly inform people about OCD and destigmatize it by sharing their experiences and the actual, real-life experiences of those with OCD all around the world.




Childers, L., & Childers, L. (2019, June 18). Howie Mandel & Depression: No Laughing Matter – hopetocope.com: Hope To Cope With Anxiety & Depression. Retrieved from https://www.hopetocope.com/howie-mandel/.


Schulte, S. (2018, January 24). Howie Mandel opens up about Howard Stern, mental illness and why his comedy isn’t family-friendly. Retrieved from https://www.pe.com/2018/01/23/howie-mandel-opens-up-about-howard-stern-mental-illness-and-why-his-comedy-isnt-family-friendly/.


Stewart, E., Grunthal, B., Collins, L., & Coles, M. (2018, August 12). Public Recognition and Perceptions of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10597-018-0323-z.

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