“I […] love using my platform to spread accurate information” Eileen Kelly tells us as we discuss her hugely successful podcast Going Mental. The podcast focusses on de-stigmatising conversations around mental health and features frank discussions with guests from pop culture as well as mental health professionals. Having spent time at McLean, one of America’s most famous mental health hospitals, Eileen also discusses her own struggles with her mental health and “reclaiming her own narrative”.
Eileen gained popularity online following the success of her blog Killer and a Sweet Thang, which featured articles written by young writers on the topics of sex and identity. The blog and its role offering honest, relatable discussions on taboo topics can be seen as a natural origin for the conception of Going Mental, a space also centred around having difficult and often avoided conversations. In this interview, Eileen discusses her content, her relation to her audience, and her various projects currently in the works.
Could you start by introducing yourself and what you do to our readers?
Hi, my name is Eileen Kelly. I host a podcast called Going Mental where I interview different media figures, artists, authors, and celebrities about their mental health journeys, as well as doctors for more informational episodes. I started the show after spending time in a mental hospital myself. I used to blog about sex education back in the day, but now I’ve devoted my time to mental health related content as a producer and writer, including my first short film coming out later this year called MOTHER directed by Maia Scalia
You gained a lot of attention online via both your social media presence and your blog Killer and a Sweet Thang, a publication dedicated to sharing articles about sex and all the other things we are told not to talk about – “but desperately need to know.” What made you want to start the blog and why do you think it was so successful?
I started it from a very vulnerable place. I grew up without a mum and in a Catholic family. I started the blog to discuss the things I wished I could talk about at home. I credit its success to being one of the first of its kind. There was Rookie Magazine, but I would say that aimed a little bit younger. There was Man Repeller for the fashion girls, Into the Gloss for the beauty girls. I just filled a niche that wasn’t filled at the time. I think people were hungry for real conversations on taboo topics. There was no TikTok, so the things we talk about today weren’t as readily available at that time.
As an influencer, how do you manage the expectations resultant from the fact that so many young people, especially young women, look up to you and resonate so much with your content?
I’m a horrible influencer. I could be much more active, doing a million different brand deals, or spreading myself thin. That’s something I did when I was younger, but now I’m much more cautious and protective over my mental health. I am more forgiving of myself and have come to a place where I only take on projects I have the bandwidth for and truly want to do. Right now, that includes my podcast, a scripted podcast, a short film, and a brand launching next year. I think I try to remind myself that I am human. As I’ve got older, I’ve been less focused on how others perceive me but it’s a work in progress.
Your wonderfully honest and informative podcast, Going Mental with Eileen Kelly that you started in 2019 has since featured a range of huge names from pop culture from Emily Ratajkowski to Lil Yachty as well as mental health professionals. It is described as “a podcast dedicated to de-stigmatising the mental journeys we are all on.” In what ways does the podcast work towards de-stigmatising conversations about mental health?
For many years I felt very alone in my mental health journey. It’s still taboo to talk about. While I knew people who were in therapy, I didn’t know many people who talked openly about their anxiety, depression, paranoia, taking medication, etc. I always felt mental illness was treated differently than physical illness. I think by asking people questions they don’t normally get asked on my podcast, I have allowed media figures to open up about tough topics they don’t normally address. I also love using my platform to spread accurate information, so I vet all my guests, especially the medical professionals who usually come from top hospitals around the country. I have had guests from NYU Langone, Columbia, and McLean Hospital (which is part of Harvard), to name a few.
In terms of the discourse around mental health on the Internet, particularly on social media, it seems to get muddied by both the spread of misinformation and the romanticisation of the mentally ill experience. Could you talk a bit about the importance of critically assessing and engaging with where you get your information from online?
Absolutely. I try to take everything I see online with a grain of salt. That’s also why I often have people with differing views on my podcast. I think it’s important people form their own opinions. However, when it comes to medical information, therapy, etc, I always refer back to large institutions that have to go through their own vetting process, like large hospitals and universities.
Why did you choose podcasting as the medium through which to discuss and highlight this issue?
I used to write back in the day and ran a whole blog. It was time-consuming and unfortunately is just a dying form these days. Audio felt like the next best step to get started with. I also love the idea of connecting with my audience in their ears, it feels very intimate.
What I love about your discussions with your celebrity guests and the scope of content you cover is that they really help the audience to feel both seen and less alone, as well as reminding us that nobody’s life is perfect, regardless of how people present online. Have you found this comfort yourself from presenting the podcast?
Absolutely. Selfishly, I think that was one of the reasons I started it in the first place. It’s always easier to talk to other people about their struggles than discuss your own. It’s helped me make sense of my own issues and feel less alone.
Given the nature of your podcast and its specific focus on mental health and illness, do you ever feel defined by your mental illness?
I have only recently talked openly about my diagnosis so I’m still kind of figuring that out. Sometimes I fear talking about this stuff so openly could affect my dating life, but I’m also a more paranoid-leaning person. I don’t feel defined by it as much as I just accept it’s part of me and talking about it publicly has given me the space to take back the narrative.
Is there something you’ve learnt either from a guest or from a discussion you’ve had on the podcast that really sticks out to you as being important?
I love sitting down with the health professionals and doctors that don’t get enough attention or are perhaps not known. I have learnt so much from these individuals and am honoured to be able to uplift the voices of people who dedicate their lives to those who suffer from mental illness. I also have had many guests who are more controversial and have been canceled, and I go into the interviews with my own biases. It’s been a humbling experience to walk away from those conversations seeing the humanity in the person that before I might have judged.
Since starting the podcast, do you feel a pressure to be completely honest and open about your struggles with your mental health?
Not really. I think it’s easier to talk about things when you’re not actively in the throes of it. So, I allow myself that space. I am honest with my fans and listeners always, but maintaining some privacy is how I maintain my sanity.
I saw that you were the muse for a few of Anna Weyent’s pieces featured in her 2022 exhibition Baby, It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over which is so cool! What was it like working with Anna and how did the collaboration come about?
Working with Anna was a dream come true and we often talk about how serendipitous it was that we found each other at the time we did. While we obviously do different things, I think there are similarities between our career trajectories and the backlash we have both faced as young women. We have grown incredibly close and are able to lean on each other in ways I feel we can’t with other friends. There are certain negatives that accompany success at a young age: trust issues, people using you for the wrong reasons, people forgetting that you’re human. I feel as though we have become sounding boards for one another. I am lucky to know her. We met because someone I knew and someone she knew (different people) said that we should meet on the exact same day out of the blue. It was bizarre and meant to be.
Finally, what have you got in store for the rest of the year?
Like I mentioned before, I produced my first short film called MOTHER by Maia Scalia coming out later this year. The subject matter is controversial, but I believe it’s highly intertwined with mental health. I’m continuing with my podcast and next year, I’m launching a new company I have been working on! My hint is that it goes back to my roots of sex.