Mad Chat is a podcast that unpacks what our pop culture is telling us about madness and mental health. Hosted by author Sandy Allen.
On each episode of Mad Chat, host Sandy Allen and a special guest discuss a piece of pop culture — like a TV show or movie — and together think through its messages about madness/mental health. While some works of pop culture have (occasionally) broken ground, they've (often) perpetuated stigma, and have (always) offered insight into how society is thinking about mental illness/health, as well as the many things connected to it — like race, gender, class, death, drugs, spirituality, and trauma. Mad Chat approaches a conversation about mental health in a new way, foregrounding a diversity of voices, highlighting especially people with first-hand experience. Each episode’s focus on a piece of pop culture creates an accessible vehicle into a topic space that some listeners might otherwise find off-putting or intimidating. Mad Chat is about serious stuff — but it’s a lot of fun. It also sounds great, thanks to the talents of producer Lee Mengistu.
Mad Chat aims to spark conversations about mental health and culture that extend beyond each episode. Listeners are encouraged to join the Mad Chat community, whether it’s to share thoughts and feedback on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook or to discuss madness in literature during the newly launched Mad Chat Book Club, hosted by Sandy on Instagram Live. Listeners are asked to share the things, big and small, that are helping them get through the day using the hashtag #whatshelpingtoday
Looking for a good place to start? Check out Episode 3, with a Hearing Voices movement activist chatting about HBO’s Six Feet Under and its surprisingly accurate depictions of hearing from dead people. Or Episode 5, in which author Esmé Weijun Wang discusses the particular scene from Dawson’s Creek that obsessed and comforted her as a teen struggling with mental health.
Mad Chat launched on May 2, 2019. New episodes are released every third Thursday.
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Where to Listen
Sandy Allen (they/them) is an author who lives in the Catskills. They write and speak about madness, mental health care, gender, and normalcy. Their debut book, A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story about Schizophrenia, was published by Scribner in 2018 (paperback in 2019). An innovative work of reported literary nonfiction, AKOMP is based on an autobiography manuscript Sandy was mailed by their Uncle Bob, a self-identified “hermit" who lived in the desert. AKOMP received critical acclaim from the Los Angeles Times, O Magazine, and The New Republic, among many others, and was named one of the best nonfiction books of the year by Esquire. Sandy traveled doing 30 events at bookstores, bars, churches and medical schools — spreading word about Uncle Bob’s story and its messages and handing out glow-in-the-dark guitar picks. More about the book at: www.akomp.info. Sandy’s essays and reported feature stories have been published by Gay Magazine, Lit Hub, Pop-Up Magazine, CNN Opinion, and BuzzFeed News, where they were previously a features editor, and them. where they are also writing a new column about being nonbinary.
Lee Mengistu (she/her) is a freelance audio producer based in Chicago. In a very recent life, she studied at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously worked for NPR and The New York Times’ The Daily. In this life, she produces podcasts like Mad Chat and the upcoming Noname’s Book Club.
What People Are Saying about Mad Chat
“This promising new podcast explores the intersection of mental health and media” – The A.V. Club
“If you want to listen to people who have much more interesting things to say about mental health, I recommend Mad Chat … amazing guests.” – Bon Appétit’s Healthyish
1. BoJack Horseman (w/ Hannah Giorgis, Atlantic staff writer) Sandy chats with Hannah about their favorite cartoon about an alcoholic horse: Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. They discuss intergenerational trauma, romanticizations of depression, and the show’s big ‘reveal’ about a lobotomy. Named one of the best podcast episodes of the week AV Club’s PodMass
2. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (w/ Meredith Talusan, author and them. founding editor) Sandy chats with Meredith about Rachel Bloom’s CW series, which had just completed its fifth and final season. They look critically at the show’s endorsement of antidepressants; Meredith also digs into differing attitudes towards romance and madness in America versus the Philippines.
3. Six Feet Under (w/ Caroline Mazel-Carlton, Hearing Voices Network activist) Sandy chats with Caroline about the HBO series Six Feet Under, which they both adore. They assess the show’s depictions of mental illness and psychiatric care like ECT/electroshock. Caroline talks about how the show portrays hearing from and talking to dead people.
4. Reefer Madness (w/ Amanda Chicago Lewis, Rolling Stone cannabis columnist) Sandy chats with Amanda about “reefer madness” — the 1936 propaganda film, the newer spoof movie musical, a recent scientifically spurious but appallingly popular book, and the whole notion that pot causes insanity causes crime. They look at the racist origins and present of this idea.
5. Dawson’s Creek (w/ Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Collected Schizophrenias) Sandy chats with Esmé about the 1998 teen drama Dawson’s Creek. They cover how horror tropes creep into portrayals of psychosis and how mental health narratives are tidied up for mainstream audiences. They talk about what’s myth and what’s reality when it comes to “mentally ill” people and violence.
6. Killing Eve (w/ Sarah Kay, poet and host of TED’s “Sincerely, X” podcast) Sandy chats with Sarah about Killing Eve, the popular BBC series about the hunt for a supposedly psychopathic assassin. They discuss empathy, sociopathy/ psychopathy and the show’s leaning on sensational, damaging stereotypes.
7. Frasier (w/ Nichole Perkins, poet and host Thirst Aid Kit)
Mad Chat’s still pretty new but already our fans are sending us notes of appreciation and saying wonderful things online:
At the end of each episode, Sandy and the guest share “what’s helping today” — highlighting something big or small that’s helping them get through that day. The show’s social media channels feature illustrations of listener’s answers to #whatshelpingtoday, a couple of which are featured in the gallery below.