Creator Download: Tom Davies

How the Proper Mental Podcast removes stigma around mental health

Award-winning mental health show The Proper Mental Podcast came about just as the host Tom Davies was figuring out his own wellness journey. When Davies started to struggle with his mental health, he discovered that listening to other people share their personal stories helped him feel like he wasn’t alone, and he wanted to do the same with his podcast. 

The Proper Mental Podcast explores all the different aspects of mental health, from the experience of what it’s like to be given a diagnosis, to the varying types of coping methods including therapy and medications - all with the purpose of normalising the conversation around mental health and removing the stigma of talking about it.

Guests that have featured on the podcast include Olympic athletes, mental health activists, musicians, actors, journalists, counsellors, educators, and many more openly speaking about their journeys with their mental health. 

“What I am here to do is be relatable,” says Davies on his website. “I hope by speaking to as many different people as possible, from all walks of life, that I can show you that underneath all versions of mental health and mental illness is a common theme and that is that we are all human beings before anything else.”

How would you describe your podcast?

My podcast is about having open and honest conversations about mental health. It's a way of getting different perspectives on different aspects of mental health, mental illness, and mental well-being and trying to look at those things from as many different directions as possible to explore them a little bit and find the relatability and connectability in different people's stories.

Why did you start your podcast?

It came about after my own experiences with mental ill health. I was very poorly, I had a breakdown in 2016, and for about four years, I kind of stumbled through dealing with this stuff, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and it was quite a rough time. When I finally managed to get better, I just knew I needed to talk more about this stuff because when I was poorly, I had no idea any of this stuff existed. I didn't know what was happening to me and that was really scary. 

I knew I needed to talk about it to learn more about it. The more I talked to other people, the more I noticed how I felt when I said to someone that I'd been poorly, and they said, oh yeah, that happened to me too. That kind of connection used to make me feel really good and I could have done with hearing people talk like this two or three years ago. So the idea, really, is to just put those sorts of conversations on record so that maybe people can hear them and find some relatability in there, find some peace and some comfort in the experiences of others. 

What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started?

There's no immediate feedback; you put these episodes out there, and the ones that you think are gonna hit, don't always hit, or maybe the ones you think no one will care about seem to be the ones people care about. Quite often, things are out there for some time and it's a different medium. 

We're so used to social media, where you put your posts out, you get all your likes in 24 hours, and then it’s dead. But with podcasting, it's out there, your episodes out there forever, and it can slowly gain traction and turn into something that you never really expected. So I think that took a bit of learning, that things need to be out there for a while, things need to kind of stew a little bit before they connect with a wider audience.

How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?

Me and someone to talk to? I'm entirely a one-man band and we have a jump on Zoom or meet up in person and press record and just go. I do very little editing, I'll only edit if there's awful sound problems. Sometimes people will say things and afterwards think ‘I'm not sure if I want that out there’, so if anyone ever asks, of course I'll take it out. On the whole, I leave things as they are. 

I kind of struggled to connect and identify, particularly when I wasn't very well, with the mental health conversation when everything was too polished. Everything was done by famous people with lots of money and I could never see myself in those stories. I couldn't connect with them and although I can have compassion for those stories, it wasn't me. It wasn't like my experience of life. I'm very keen for it to be authentic. If that means my kids will walk through that door behind me or if something weird happens or someone sneezes, I don't polish - which is good, because it means that it's only me that needs to do anything, really. 

Do you monetize your podcast?

I don't at all, I think the question of ads is that it comes down to people's own morals. As it's a mental health podcast, I couldn't have just any old adverts, it has to fit the message. I think sometimes with the placements of ads, if someone's halfway through talking to me about a really challenging traumatic aspect of their life, it can't suddenly cut out to try and sell someone a mattress. The beauty of it only being me involved is that it doesn't really take much money. I don't know if that would change or not, I'm not sure how I feel about it.

How do you promote your podcast?

Mainly through social media, I've got a very engaged community around the platform. I don't have a massive following but the people who do follow me are very interested in what's going on with the show and people know that if they message me on Instagram, or send me an email or something, then I'll get back to them and we can have a little chat. I do have a website but I don't do any Google ads or anything like that, and just rely on word of mouth. 

When I get asked to be on other people's podcasts, that's always a good way of connecting with other audiences. There's not always a link between social media and how many people listen to the podcast so sometimes I'll post about an episode and that post will blow up and then that will not be represented in the number of people that go and listen to it. It can also happen the other way around as well. I think the biggest driver of it is that community element of being able to talk to people and discuss stuff. 

What have you learned about yourself since starting the podcast?

When it comes to mental health, there's so much that we can learn through other people's experiences. I had no idea that I have very low-level, high-functioning anxiety, and I have since I was a kid. I spoke to an anxiety expert, I didn't know then, and she was talking about her life, and I was like, wow, you're describing mine. So there's a lot of little realisations like that along the way. 

One thing I've really learned is to kind of separate myself from not just download numbers, but knock backs and rejections as well. As an independent podcaster, you deal with a lot of rejection and get let down quite a bit. I had to learn to separate my self esteem and my self worth from people deciding at the last minute that they weren't going to talk to me or people saying no to me when I ask them to come on and things like that. So that's been probably my biggest learning actually, to separate yourself from the numbers.

Who listens to your podcast?

I'm aware that being a podcast about mental health and mental illness, I have a show that is probably going to appeal to quite a niche audience and a lot of my listeners have some form of lived experience of mental ill health. I know that a lot of people who work in the mental health sector and various types of healthcare professionals also enjoy the show. That being said, ultimately the conversations that I have are just two people being very open and honest and showing a lot of vulnerability, and I think that the majority of my listeners are people who like to hear these sorts of deep and meaningful conversations.

Mental health is impacted by so many factors, obviously our experiences, thoughts and feelings but also the world around us and societal issues. The conversations I have often go much further and much deeper than simply mental health and most people can relate regardless of any particular interest in mental wellbeing. I've been very lucky to have a really interesting and diverse group of guests and I think that a lot of people come for the names but stay for the chats - and that's a wonderful way to reach people outside of the usual audience.

What was the last podcast you listened to?

I listen to a lot, I love the medium. I love all different types of podcasts as well. My favourite of all time is Heavyweight over on Spotify. I think that, in my opinion, is the greatest podcast ever made. I listened to a lot of Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces, that’s a favourite of mine. I'm not too keen on all the popular true crime ones, I'm not sure our society's obsession with all this is going to work out very well for us in the long run.