Howie Mandel's History With Anxiety And OCD Explained

Howie Mandel is famous for his huge smile, bald head, and fist bumps, but that lighthearted exterior is in stark contrast to his serious, long-term struggles with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). As a successful comedian, actor, charismatic host of the hugely popular "Deal or No Deal," and judge on "America's Got Talent," Mandel has been in the public eye for decades and is a well-known personality to millions of Americans. But it wasn't until 2009, in an interview with ABC News, that Mandel openly discussed his nearly lifelong struggle with severe anxiety, depression, and OCD, saying "It's uncomfortable, it's hard, and somewhat embarrassing." More recently, in an interview with People, Mandel opened up further, saying "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." Mandel's struggle with anxiety and OCD has been a marathon, not a sprint; its beginnings reach way back into his childhood.

Mandel is married to wife Terry, and the couple has three children

Though he's now 65 years old, the star remembers being teased in elementary school over simple things like being unwilling to tie his shoelaces — not because he didn't know how to tie them, but because they were dirty. "They would make fun of me because I couldn't tie my shoes — well I could, but I didn't want to touch it, but I don't want to say I'm afraid to touch it because it's dirty, so I didn't. I had a fight going on inside" (via ABC). Even as an adult, Mandel's signature bald head is not a result of natural balding — it's a look he maintains because it feels "cleaner" to him. His struggles have deeply affected his personal life, too. Mandel is married to his wife Terry, and the couple has three children. In order to deal with his fear of contamination, Mandel had a second house built in their backyard where he can retreat if a family member gets sick (via Impulse Therapy).

Mandel is known for his fist-bump, instead of handshake

Obsessive compulsive disorder involves obsessions — repetitive and intrusive thoughts that take on a lot of significance — as well as compulsions, or strong impulses to act on the obsessions. For Mandel, and millions of others who struggle with OCD, this can take many forms. For example, his obsession with germs has often led him to repeatedly wash and scrub his hands, over and over again. His germaphobia is the reason he prefers the low-touch greeting of a fist bump to shaking hands. Another example Mandel gives is, "I don't think I locked the door, so I go back and I check the door like everyone else. And then I still don't think I locked the door, so I go back and check the door again. And I still think I didn't lock the door. And I can go back, like, 30 times. Intellectually, I know that I've checked the door 29 times before, but I can't stop myself from going back and checking it again and again and again" (via Everyday Health).

Mandel continues to perform stand-up comedy

For years, Mandel found comedy to be an effective coping mechanism, because it provides him a much-needed relief from the otherwise incessant worrying. He explains "I may be more passionate about my comedy because that's the one place where I feel comfortable — because I'm in the now. Performing is the only time of the day when I have to really force every ounce of concentration into whatever's happening in that moment. Whereas any other time, I can kind of sit and worry about what has happened, what might happen, and get into that vicious circle of dark thoughts" (Everyday Health). It's no wonder that comedy has been interwoven through virtually his entire career — from his beginnings in stand-up comedy, to producing and acting in comedy films and sitcoms, and coming full circle to perform standup in the present day. Mandel has been listed by Comedy Central as one of the top 100 comedians of all time (via IMDb).

Other celebrities have also shared their struggles with mental illness

Mandel is far from alone in his struggle. Anxiety disorders impact 40 million American adults, and 2.2 million suffer from OCD (via Anxiety and Depression Society of America). For Mandel, help is found through both medication and intensive therapy. When asked in an interview about how he manages his conditions, he said "I'm surrounded by great help. As I speak to you right now, I'm heavily medicated and I see a lot of therapists" (via Everyday Health). Mandel has made it his mission to shed light on mental illnesses and help to de-stigmatize them. His best-selling memoir "Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me," discusses his struggles in detail, and how mental illness has impacted his life both professionally and personally. His disclosure seems to have touched a nerve among many others, too. In recent years many more celebrities, including Sophie Turner, Chris Evans, Ryan Reynolds, and Prince Harry, have publicly opened up about their struggles with mental illness (via Insider).

Mandel works to manage - not cure - his condition

Mandel has accepted that often, others just don't understand his struggles, especially when there seem to be inconsistencies in his behavior that are publicized by the media — like the occasional on-camera hug or handshake (via People). What doesn't get covered, though, is the compulsive handwashing that follows, and the mental and emotional stress that accompanies it. But on the positive side, according to Everyday Health, speaking up has resulted in many people sharing their own experiences of anxiety and OCD with him, and he believes there's a benefit to knowing that there are other people out there dealing with the same issues. He focuses daily on treating and managing — not curing — his condition, and his biggest advice to anybody struggling silence is to seek help (via Everyday Health).  He tells People, "I'm broken. But this is my reality. I know there's going to be darkness again — and I cherish every moment of light."