Howie Mandel on being a germaphobe amid COVID-19, staying creative, and the 'politics' of vaccines

·Editor, Yahoo Canada
·5 min read
Howie Mandel attends the 2020 NBCUniversal Winter Press Tour 45 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 11, 2020 in Pasadena, California.
The America's Got Talent judge has always been open about his mental health. For him to stay on track, it's all about sparking his curiousity. (Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

For Howie Mandel, COVID-19 has only “exacerbated and grown” the struggles he faces as a germaphobe and someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

To cope, the TV personality, judge and comedian continues to look for ways to get his brain working and distracted, he says. That includes campaigns, and the latest comes as part of Staples Canada's “Let’s Find Out” initiative. He says it’s the only place he’s ever shopped for office supplies, but more importantly it’s helped him spark the curiosity he needs to be creative and fuel his career.

Mandel will stroll through aisles looking for the latest gadgets, like a label maker to write “Howie Mandel” on everything in sight, or supplies to help him organize his work as one of Canada’s busiest showmen since entering the business decades ago.

“I find that the more I'm not inside my own head, the better I am,” says Mandel to Yahoo Canada. “I don't think there's anybody alive, doesn't have those moments when they want to just curl up in a little ball and not do anything. But there's nothing healthy about curling up into a little ball and doing nothing.”

The latest initiative from Staples encourages shoppers to pursue their curiosity, such as by assembling the right tools and workspace to pursue a new career endeavour or hobby. It’s become common amid the pandemic, with Canadians across the country shifting their daily habits to adjust to COVID-19.

Mandel is a firm believer that buying something to pursue a passion is “always good externally for everybody’s psyche.” We don’t need to look for something new that will make us rich or famous, instead something that’ll bring excitement to one’s daily life. It’s the reason why all his underpants are now tie dyed, he says.

As part of Staples’ latest campaign, they’re also redesigning stores across the country as the “Working and Learning Company.” Mandel describes it as an “amalgamation of every place that I go.” In some, there are now shared workspaces to rent, wifi-ed coffee shops, a patio (at its latest Toronto location), and a customer support team to help you tailor your own workspace.

Your mental health is always paramount, and your mental health is whether you feel creative in the moment. What do you have to do for yourself, what kind of environment, equipment, and surrounding environment do you need for your mental health to be the most productive.Howie Mandel

How COVID-19 has impacted Mandel's mental health

Before the pandemic, the TV personality was open about the challenges he’s gone through as a germaphobe, such as sometimes washing his hands for hours on end. The repetition aspect is part of his struggles with OCD, which he’s had for nearly his entire life. However, before the pandemic, there was more work to keep him distracted and away from those intrusive thoughts, as he performed 100-200 times a year.

“The distractions of the job kept me away from my mind going down that wormhole, that dark wormhole of worry,” he says. “I'm a germaphobe and a pandemic enhances that.”

Throughout COVID-19, the general public has also become hyper aware of germs, many reaching out to Mandel for answers on how to cope. He notes that “you don’t need those titled kinds of issues” to be aware that you need to take care of your mental health.

For the first time in my life I feel like we're all in this together. It’s kind of comforting to know that I’m not the only one. As somebody who's been open about their mental health, the predominant feeling is 'I'm the only one.'Howie Mandel

Mandel says he’s not comfortable at the moment amid the pandemic, but he notes that was also the case before, when he was “famously worried about everything.” Most recently, he didn’t want to fly to Canada and do the Staples campaign because of that discomfort, but he did it to stay busy, and followed all the restrictions he could.

As the world continues to navigate restrictions, vaccine mandates and efforts have become top of mind. Mandel believes everybody needs to get vaccinated. But after seeing families and friendships torn apart because of the “touchy subject,” he tries to refrain from it.

“It's kind of like talking politics,” says Mandel. “If you want to get along and have a good time, you don't want to talk about politics, you don't want to talk about vaccines.”

He points to when he was a child, remembering the little drinks of polio vaccines they’d have to take, but not remembering any hesitancy. To enter public school, you had to get your vaccines — and those families that chose not to had their kids homeschooled, which Mandel says is OK too.

What’s also different to Mandel is the amount of information that’s now available, some of it misinformation, and also quality content that can be difficult to discern.

For example, he says at the start of our vaccination push, people would quote statistics of the amount of patients who’ve died after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. In effect, they’d be glossing over the fact that many of those were older, immunocompromised, and already at risk of not surviving in the long-term regardless of the pandemic.

“I just think that people are their own worst enemies,” says Mandel.

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