May 30, 2023
Podcast production, listenership, and revenue have exploded in the last five years, with podcast revenue reaching $1.8 billion in 2022. An essential part of the media diet, podcasts entertain listeners, make commuting less dull, and help listeners learn about the world. Perhaps less widely known is how podcasts are an increasingly valued resource for people seeking to improve their mental health and wellness. Coming off of May being Mental Health Awareness month, we want to highlight the research about the connection between podcasts and mental health.
Mental health podcasts have become one of the fastest growing genres according to the SXM Culture Trends 2022 Report. And a 2021 Pandora study found that 46% of all podcast listeners listen to podcasts for mental health. For younger listeners, the connection between mental health and podcast listenership is even stronger as mental health is now the top podcast genre among Generation Z, according to Spotify research.
A uniquely intimate medium, many podcasts facilitate candid, vulnerable conversations around mental health topics like depression, anxiety, and addiction. One study published in the National Institutes of Health database found that podcasts featuring storytelling and testimonials from people with lived experience with opioid use disorder helped destigmatize and increase compassion around the topic. Research is even being conducted by mental health professionals on how to integrate podcasts directly into clinical work, according to the Journal of Mental Health Counseling.
Unlike perhaps any other medium, podcasts create intensely personal bonds between the listener and the content creator. Podcast listeners feel like the hosts are their close friends. Sociologists describe the intense emotional connection between a person and a media figure, “parasocial interactions.” Research at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia has found that the more vulnerable the host is willing to be in disclosing their own experiences, the more closely bonded the listener feels to them.
When our Play Audio Agency team went to SXSW this past March, we attended a Spotify-hosted sonic science panel with Monica Padman, the co-host of one of the most popular podcasts, Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. Padman spoke about these parasocial connections, describing her own strong feelings towards her favorite podcast hosts, “I do feel like they are my best friends. I love them so much.”
The feeling of intimate connection as well as privacy that podcasts create for listeners is supported by the data in Spotify’s 2022 Culture Next Report: “55% of American 18- to 24-year-olds said they turn to podcasts to get answers to hard or personal questions before talking to their families about it.” In addition, listening on earbuds or headphones - as so many podcast listeners do - has also been proven to create a more intense emotional connection than listening on speakers, according to 2022 research conducted by UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego.
Our team of creatives, composers, producers, and engineers at PLAY could not be prouder to produce podcasts that create safe emotional spaces for host, guest, and listener alike to explore mental health topics. Our current female-led client roster includes Food Addiction, launched in February, a show which features candid, illuminating conversations with people in recovery as well as mental health professionals. She’s Got Issues hosted by Jill Smokler unites Gen X women around common interests and provides a safe space for conversations, connection and information. LeadingShe empowers women to share their experiences of personal and professional growth in male-dominated corporate leadership. One of our upcoming podcasts, In My Tracks, hosted by Jada Burt, features often deeply intimate conversations with musicians revealing the candid inspiration behind their original music.
Although podcasts are by no means a substitute for care by mental health professionals, a growing number of people, especially younger people, are utilizing them to boost their mental health and find solace, inspiration, and a sense of connection.
Ann Driscoll is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and the Project Director for Play Audio Agency where she coordinates podcast production. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Ann was the Internet Team Leader for the radio/digital distribution department at ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) in New York City, where she developed processes for increasing royalty distribution for YouTube streams. As a performer and songwriter, she has performed in Egypt, Germany, and has showcased twice at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Her original music has earned her praise from Billboard Magazine.