Jennifer Brooks
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Listen to the blues when you're sad, a neuroscientist once told John Moe.

Moe, a Twin Cities author, humorist, playwright and former public radio host, made a career out of getting people to laugh about depression and talk about the things we don't talk about.

He understands the consolation of sad songs when you're feeling sad.

Or a podcast about depression when you are depressed.

"Are people really going to be helped by me telling stories of misery? Of discomfort and struggle?" he used to ask himself years ago, when he was launching his podcast, "The Hilarious World of Depression."

Turns out, when you're down, it helps to know you're not the only one down there.

"It's a hell of a lot better," Moe said, "to struggle with other people than to struggle alone."

Last year was the most depressing, least hilarious year. In the middle of it all, Moe lost his job, his health insurance, and his podcast to a round of pandemic layoffs at Minnesota Public Radio.

The podcast he had started as a way to process his grief over his brother's death by suicide was no longer his own. It belonged to American Public Media.

Moe had a choice. He could walk away. Or he could start again.

His new podcast, "Depresh Mode," launches March 29 into a world reeling from collective trauma, isolation, anxiety and grief.

There will still be hilarious guests laughing about their depression. Episode 1 features Patton Oswalt.

There's a reason Moe talks to funny people about serious topics. He knows the shock of recognition the audience feels when they listen to a brilliant comedian: This person is saying what I'm feeling. I thought I was the only one who felt that way.

"When that recognition happens, it's a relief. Almost like an exhale of relief," Moe said. "With comedy, that exhale comes out as a laugh. That tension leaves your body, with joy."

There will be future episodes with scientists, therapists, musicians and writers talking about a range of mental health issues, pandemic trauma, workplace burnout, and the pressing question of what sort of post-pandemic grandparents we'll all turn into.

"I kind of feel like we're at a crossroads," Moe said. "After the Spanish flu there were flappers and F. Scott Fitzgerald and gin joints and this party atmosphere, which sounds like a lot of fun."

But most of us didn't get the fun flapper grandparents. We got the grandparents who came out the other side of the Great Depression counting nickels and cutting the mold off bread crusts.

"How deep is the damage already? When our kids and grandkids stand too close to someone in the future are we going to [scream] 'Get away from there?' " Moe said. "What kind of crazy grandparents are we going to be? I think that is a story people will appreciate hearing about and thinking about."

He is not a mental health professional. But John Moe knows the blues.

When people tune into his new podcast, he hopes they'll hear their own story in the stories he shares.

If you're struggling, you're struggling in good company. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed thousands of American adults last summer and almost a third of them reported symptoms of depression and anxiety at a time when the nation's mental health system is strained to the limit.

"You're part of a group. You're part of a team," Moe said. "Others have had the same experiences. There's comfort in that."

You'll find the first two episodes of "Depresh Mode" on podcast-streaming platforms this weekend.

Mental health resources in Minnesota that can help you through these hard times are listed at namimn.org.