Paul Gilmartin can spot his listeners well before they introduce themselves to him. They look like they want to cry, and their first words are usually something along the lines of "I just want to say ..." Gilmartin immediately hugs them, and the conversation that follows is far from anything two people who just met would ordinarily hold.
Gilmartin, 51, is the creator and host of The Mental-Illness Happy Hour, a weekly two-hour trudge to the darkest—and most joyful—corners of the human condition. He records the podcast in his hometown of Los Angeles, and the show is built around interviews with celebrities, artists, therapists, and podcast listeners; anonymous surveys; and Gilmartin's narration of his own struggles with depression, addiction, and overcoming sexual abuse. Thirty-five thousand people download the podcast each week, and some episodes—interviews he's held with Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, and Adam Carolla, for example—have been downloaded more than 80,000 times. The Mental-Illness Happy Hour website is home to an active listener forum, and the show's 200th episode aired on November 21.
The podcast serves as a place of community and affirmation for those who struggle with mental illness, including Gilmartin, who has been undergoing treatment for clinical depression since 1999 and has gained clarity on his own issues through talking with his guests and corresponding with his listeners. It was while interviewing comedian Danielle Koenig during episode 16 of the podcast that Gilmartin realized on-air that he had been molested by a neighbor as a young boy, and the revelation that he was a survivor of incest began its slow simmer while talking with radio personality Phil Hendrie on episode 59.