Howie Mandel: ‘We don’t take care of our mental health’

Howie Mandel

(CNN) — Howie Mandel endured ridicule from other kids as a child because when his shoelaces came undone, he would limp around without tying them.

He didn’t want to handle the laces because they had touched the ground, and he thought they were dirty.

Mandel, a Canadian comedian, later learned that he has obsessive compulsive disorder, a condition characterized by repetitive thoughts, impulses or images, and behaviors performed over and over. Some people with OCD wash their hands excessively or check to see if doors are locked multiple times.

About 2.2 million Americans have OCD, according to the National Institutes of Health. Research has suggested the condition runs in families.

Mandel also has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.

“As a child I didn’t know that these things even existed,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “I knew that I felt isolated.”

Mandel said his OCD is more complicated than he has led people to believe. It’s not as straightforward as a fear of germs.

“I know intellectually that if I shake somebody’s hand that I’m not going to get sick and die,” he said.

But there have been times when Mandel has touched something or someone and then obsessed for the rest of the day about it, trapped in a “never ending obsessive-compulsive world.”

Mandel recently appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, and dipped his hand into a large bowl of hand sanitizer before shaking hands with the host. Mandel admitted to Burnett that he made the situation “more dramatic than it was,” and that it was actually not a big problem to touch Leno’s hand.

“I don’t know when it’s going to be a big problem,” he said.

A big concern of Mandel’s is that there are no routine resources in place for mental health for young people, the way there are for physical health.

Mandel said that just like parents take their children to pediatricians and dentists, mental health — such as counseling — should also be part of the picture.

“We take care of our dental health,” he said. “We don’t take care of our mental health.”

Mandel acknowledged that some people with mental illnesses are overmedicated; at the same time, some sufferers of colds want to take antibiotics unnecessarily.

But Mandel is more concerned about helping people cope with their life situations, both those who have diagnosed mental illnesses and those who do not.

“We are so behind in the world as to not have something in place that just teaches everyone how to cope,” he said.

The embarrassment and stigma surrounding mental health issues needs to end, he said.

“I think the solution to making this world better is if we would just be healthy, mentally,” Mandel said.

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