How a True-Crime Podcast Became a Mental-Health Support Group

Listening to stories of grisly murders allows some people to exorcise their fears, and the community built around the show encourages listeners to take care of themselves.



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On the way to her first therapy appointment on a November morning in Lafayette, Louisiana, Windy Maitreme listened to her latest podcast obsession, My Favorite Murder. Maitreme works as an administrative assistant and struggles with anxiety and depression. Podcasts distract her from her fears.

“If I don’t really focus on something, I worry about everything,” Maitreme says.

She arrived 35 minutes early, and finished listening to the episode to calm her nerves. It was a memorable one, a rare tale of survival on a show about killings. Co-host Karen Kilgariff told the story of Mary Vincent, who was attacked by a man who picked her up while she was hitchhiking. He raped her, used a hatchet to hack off both her arms at the elbows and left her for dead. A couple driving by found her the next day, walking nude along the highway, holding what was left of her arms in the air to keep from losing more blood.

My Favorite Murder is, on the surface, a podcast for true-crime fans. The hosts, comedy writer Kilgariff and Cooking Channel personality Georgia Hardstark, take turns retelling and editorializing about history’s most gruesome killings—and the occasional near-killing— while the other reacts with shock, outrage, and witty deadpan commentary. They also talk openly about their own struggles with anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and drug use.

“We’re both oversharers, so opening up about ourselves happened naturally for us,” Hardstark said in an email. “Luckily people liked it, because now we don’t have to pretend to be perfect or experts or anything we’re not.”

Murder is not instinctively soothing subject matter, but for many listeners, the podcast has opened the door to a virtual support group. On Facebook, a community of more than 100,000 fans—largely female—not only nurture each other’s enthusiasm for the taboo topic of serial killers, they follow the examples of their hosts and openly discuss their own mental-health issues. Some share how the podcast has offered the inspiration they need to seek help.  In part, this is thanks to two charismatic hosts who aren’t afraid to talk about tough topics. (Hardstark and Kilgariff regularly get messages from people thanking them for talking about therapy and asking where they can find therapists of their own. They usually recommend the directory on Psychology Today’s website.)

Maitreme is from a small town where she says she was taught to be strong and act even stronger. Emotion was a sign of weakness. “I couldn’t believe how much they talked about mental health issues and how they were very open about seeking therapy,” she says of Kilgariff and Hardstark. “It was just amazing to me to see how many people [on Facebook] not only accepted these two women and their mental-health issues, but they loved them and supported them.”