Come Sit In "The Dark Place," A Podcast Spotlighting Mental Health Issues

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"Come sit in the dark place. Maybe if we shine a light on it, it won't be so dark anymore."

After volunteering for a year at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, Joel Kutz realized a greater, growing "need for places that people could go to find others that had stories like their own." So, in January 2015, he started The Dark Place, a binge-worthy podcast transforming the conversation about mental health. 

The title of the podcast came from a phrase Kutz was trained to say on the hotline: "Let's sit in the dark place," a way to comfort the caller in the crisis situation with their dark feelings.

One in six U.S. adults lives with a mental illness.

In 2016, this totaled to 44.7 million people. 

At the Suicide Prevention Hotline, Kutz was trained on how to speak with individuals who called in and offered a friendly voice when they had no one. Today, he uses his podcast in a similar way and amplifies their message to the world. He shares stories of guests and listeners who are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, mental illness, and any pain people are afraid to talk about with others.

The podcast's first guests were friends of Kutz who had reached out to him from his Facebook post, where he asked if any of his friends knew of anyone willing to share their story about mental illness. Overwhelmed with the number of responses, The Dark Place took off immediately, today boasting 40 episodes for thousands of listeners.

"So often what people need is someone to sit with them in that dark place," Kutz tells Beyond The Interview.

 Joel Kutz, founder and host of  The Dark Place , a podcast opening up about mental health.

Joel Kutz, founder and host of The Dark Place, a podcast opening up about mental health.

A producer and researcher CBS's The Late Late Show with James Corden, Kutz prefers podcasting as a medium for this type of topic because he believes it creates an intimate moment with the listeners as they can listen from anywhere. He's not wrong. According to Edison Research, 40 percent of Americans 12-years-old and up say they have listened to a podcast, and 24 percent say they have listened to one in the past month, up from 21 percent one year ago.

"It's a very private medium, and it's also a medium that the people who are on the air, the people who are talking on the podcast, can be very honest about their feelings since there isn't a camera in their face," Kutz says. In preparation for each episode, he tries to speak with his guests before the interview to ask sensitive questions and create a framework for the flow.

Guests on The Dark Place are ordinary people who have become advocates for the mental health discussion. Episodes include teachers, writers, filmmakers, and people from other positions who have opened up about their struggles.

In episode #38, Kutz interviews Kevin Hines, one of only 36 people to survive a suicide attempt from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

"People don't realize that if you are in pain today it doesn't mean you're going to have the rest of tomorrow in that pain," Hines shares. "That's what I thought when I jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought that I was going to be in this pain mentally for the rest of my life, how could I bear that? I have to die. I thought that my family hated me. It was the opposite of the truth. My family loved me, I was no burden to anyone, I was a good person and I should have never attempted to take my life and I admit it right here, right now, it was the greatest mistake I ever made."

A way to open up this conversation with someone is to lend an ear for those who need it the most. Kutz advises that "so often you can say, 'I've noticed you’ve been looking little down today, this week, this month or this year, and I just wanted to let you know that you have a safe place if you ever need to talk.'

"Things we can do, we can learn about what the signs are for mental illness and then we can ask them about it and we can ask them about it in a non-judgmental way," Kutz says.

The takeaway? The Dark Place strives to break down the stigma of mental health we witness in our culture.

"We live in a culture where we value success and we value achievement and we value fitting in and we value just having all your shit together, because those are things that our culture values," Kutz says. "And the honest truth is that no one has everything together, and for people, especially who are living with mental illness, there is an external factor that is affecting them and that includes brain chemistry and that includes environmental conditions, that includes life situations, and that includes the hand that they were dealt."

And so, it only makes sense that people are afraid to open up to others about their mental illness due to the fear of judgement, that they should be able to control it. Instead of perpetuating this myth, we can and should destroy the stigma on mental health.

The Dark Place can be streamed from iTunes, Stitcher, and Player FM. If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health illness, visit The Dark Place’s helpful resource page for hotlines.