Creating a safe space in sound waves: podcasts and radio can help promote empathy and reduce stigma

Podcasts and radio shows, due to their intimate and personal nature, have the ability to house unique conversations. Picture: Juja Han /Unsplash

Podcasts and radio shows, due to their intimate and personal nature, have the ability to house unique conversations. Picture: Juja Han /Unsplash

Published Feb 5, 2024


We live in a world where discussions often stay on the surface, where difficult conversations are avoided to keep the peace or out of fear of discord.

However, it's within the depths of these uneasy dialogues — about mental health, race, sexuality, and other stigmatised topics — that we find the seeds of empathy and understanding.

Podcasts and radio shows, due to their intimate and personal nature, have the unique ability to house these conversations and nurture a community built on heartfelt understanding.

Crafting safe spaces in sound waves

When a podcast or radio host opens the airwaves to challenging subjects, they're setting the stage for empathy.

Listeners are invited into a safe space where perspectives unfold organically, free from the harsh judgments that often pervade social media and polarised news channels.

By curating a respectful tone and encouraging open-mindedness, these hosts can guide their audience through the uncomfortable to reach a place of compassionate insight.

Personal stories

Hearing someone's personal story can be a powerful catalyst for empathy. When a listener is engaged with a story of struggle, triumph, or everyday life from someone of a different background or with a different experience, it humanises issues that might otherwise seem distant.

Podcasts and radio features that highlight these narratives help listeners connect on a personal level, reducing stigmas by showcasing the relatability of varied human experiences.

Educating through engagement

Podcasts and radio shows often provide a platform for experts and activists to share insights in a more informal and relatable context than academic papers or news reports.

This engagement educates the public, not through lecturing, but through conversation. Learning about the complexities of mental illness, the nuances of social justice, or the challenges of living with a disability promotes understanding and reduces the ignorance that fuels stigma.

Complex conversations with compassion

To ensure these harder topics are approached constructively, a dose of compassion is essential. Hosts and guests alike must navigate these waters with care, balancing the raw honesty of their discussions with a sensitivity to the feelings and experiences of both participants and listeners.

It is this empathetic approach that can transform a challenging conversation into a deeply meaningful one.

Podcasts have become a lifeline for those looking for a blend of entertainment and education, especially in the area of mental health.

If you're seeking stories you can relate to or tips for a healthier mind, there is a wealth of mental health podcasts available for you to tap into right now.

It turns out that when it comes to expressing and understanding emotions, how we say something could be even more telling than our facial expressions.

Intriguing findings from a 2017 study published in American Psychologist suggest that people are better at picking up on emotions through voice alone, as opposed to seeing facial expressions.

The researchers discovered that when study participants talked in the dark, without visual cues, their empathic accuracy – or the ability to understand others' emotions – improved.

Dr Anne Hallward, a graduate from 1997, understands the value of storytelling, especially on topics often left undiscussed.

“There’s something powerful about telling a story,” Hallward said, pointing to the therapeutic nature of narrative as per Harvard Medicine publication.

Regularly diving into podcasts is more than just a pastime; it's an engaging method for feeding our natural needs for competence, autonomy, and connection.

As listeners visualise stories and topics presented in podcasts, this active form of engagement helps elevate cognitive health – reinforcing imagination skills, according to Good Housekeeping.

This auditory experience also offers therapeutic benefits. With diverse topics available, people can find solace, learn something new, or stimulate personal growth – all contributing to mental wellness.

Market research pointed out by Edison Research and Triton Digital in 2021 shows distinct audience patterns; the 12-34 age group dominates podcast listeners, with numbers trailing off as age increases.

Dubbed "edutainment," podcasts allow for a diverse range of voices and narratives that might not find space in mainstream media. Offering an avenue for education and personal stories, they enable listeners to discover more engaging content than traditional radio.

Specifically, people often turn to podcasts for mental health purposes. This includes a spectrum of content from wellness tips and guided meditation to therapeutic advice and psychology education.

Podcasts in this space are versatile in format, frequently featuring interviews and personal stories in a conversational tone.

While many are public, some are integrated into therapeutic practices, as part of comprehensive psychological care, according to research on podcasts and mental health.

The solitary nature of podcast listening allows individuals to explore sensitive topics privately and reflectively, enhancing understanding and empathy. As discussed in works by researchers like Berry and Meserko, the intimacy of the medium can create a safe space for listeners.

The use of audio storytelling tools such as vocal delivery, background music, and sound effects further enriches the experience, making the content all the more captivating and impactful.

What are some mental health podcasts and where can I find them?

There are countless podcasts available on a wide range of topics, catering to diverse interests and providing valuable insights and guidance. Here are a few of my personal favourites:

“After School is after school with Sis G.U” is hosted by social media personality Gugulethu Nyatsumba.

This podcast delves into the experiences and challenges of navigating one's 20s, touching on themes like friendships and self-discovery.

Nyatsumba beautifully describes this phase as growing pains, resonating with many of us as we navigate similar journeys.

After school is after school with Sis G.U Podacast. Picture: Screenshot

“The subtle art of not giving a f**k” by Mark Manson has gained widespread attention, with many people not only reading his book but also tuning in to his podcast.

Launched in 2023, Manson shares his insights on embracing the art of not letting trivial concerns consume our lives. His teachings point to the importance of focusing on what truly matters and only investing in values that we can control.

The subtle art of not giving a f**k" by Mark Manson. Picture: Screenshot

Lastly, “On Purpose with Jay Shetty” provides actionable steps to help listeners develop skills for nurturing love and personal growth.

Jay Shetty imparts wisdom on topics like resilience and self-awareness. Picture: Screenshot

Jay Shetty imparts wisdom on topics like resilience and self-awareness, earning him the nickname “Yoda of our time”.

Shetty's captivating way with words leaves a lasting impact, inspiring listeners to be more responsible and in tune with themselves. His insights are truly spine-chilling and offer valuable guidance for personal development.