Simon Cowell wishes he’d done it sooner. But it’s only recently that the infamously gruff and grumpy British music executive, who shot to fame as a judge on the original version of “American Idol” and created “America’s Got Talent” and other shows, decided to prioritize his mental health and try therapy for the first time.
“I’ve suffered from depression over the years… but that was just something I just thought, ‘Well, that’s my character trait. I get down,’ and it’s something you deal with,” he explained on the first episode of The Mirror’s “Men in Mind” podcast, which was produced in partnership with the mental health organization Mind and debuted in August 2023.
Though there were a few bumps along the way, he’s found it incredibly helpful. “I wish I had done this 10 or 20 years ago… it’s like a weight has lifted off my shoulders,” Simon, 63, said. “When I see my friends, the first thing I talk about is how therapy has had this super positive effect on my life.
“Now I am happy to talk about it to encourage others too,” he added.
Keep reading to learn more about why Simon decided to try therapy, what happened the first time he sat down for an appointment, what’s changed and more…
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Why he finally tried therapy
Why did Simon Cowell wait until he was in his 60s to try therapy? “I suppose COVID was the real catalyst,” he explained on an August 2023 episode of The Mirror’s “Men in Mind” podcast, which was produced in partnership with the mental health organization Mind.
He was in a near-constant state of anxiety during the pandemic because “in the very, very, very early stages, some friends of mine got really ill [with COVID] and I’m talking about really ill. So I thought, ‘God, if I catch this, maybe the same thing’s going to happen to me, Eric and Lauren,'” he explained. (Simon shares a son, Eric, 9, with fiancée Lauren Silverman, 46.)
Though he stayed informed by reading and watching the news, “I didn’t know what was true or not, I just didn’t have a clue other than I was petrified about catching it. Just petrified,” he added, calling the period a “nightmare.” When he eventually did get sick with COVID, he was lucky to not suffer any lingering effects. But it all made him want to improve his mental health.
“It gave me time to reflect on things in a way I never would have done before,” he explained, “and as things started to calm down a bit, and it was almost like now I’ve got to go from there, back into the real world. How do I feel about that? And that’s when this whole notion of — I started to hear a lot more people talking about mental health.”
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He did some research
Simon Cowell told the podcast he’s “curious by nature,” so he started to do some reading about mental health and talk to friends who’d been in therapy.
“As things [with COVID] started to calm down a bit and it was almost like now I’ve got to go from there back into the real world, how do I feel about that?” he said. “So I started to read up about stuff, teach myself. Then fortunately I met some friends who had benefited from therapy. And that’s when I thought, ‘You know what? I’ve kind of looked after my body through diet and exercise, pretty well over the years, but what have I done about my brain and my mind?'”
“And the answer is nothing. And now’s the time to do it. So it was almost like my head going to the gym,” he said.
He had some preconceived notions
Watching American TV while growing up in England, Simon Cowell noticed that characters often talked about going to therapy. He used to feel, he told The Mirror’s “Men in Mind” podcast, that it was “dramatic” and “over the top” and he couldn’t relate to it being a Brit.
“I never took [the idea of therapy] seriously, if I’m being honest,” Simon said on the podcast, as reported by People magazine. “It was only like I said, having gone through something pretty traumatic [with the COVID pandemic] that I realized, and like I said, having good friends who were very open about it.”
How he got started
Simon Cowell had no idea how to find a therapist, he told The Mirror’s “Men in Mind” podcast. He’d ask friends, “‘Well, where do I start?'” he recalled. “And they just said, ‘Well, you’ve got to find someone you clicked with.’ And what if you don’t? ‘Well, then you go to somebody else,'” he said, remembering their conversations.
He finally found someone but felt embarrassed when he went in for his first therapy session — though that feeling quickly changed. “I sat down really embarrassed and I said, ‘Look I just don’t know where to start,'” Simon recalled. “And within about 20 minutes it was as if I’d known him for 10, 20 years, he’d put me so much at ease, and you realize you’re talking to a professional, and they don’t judge you, they listen to you.”
One example of how therapy has helped
As he began to regularly attend therapy sessions, Simon Cowell started working through some of his issues, he said on The Mirror’s “Men in Mind” podcast. For example, he explained, therapy inspired him to tell his staff to stop sharing ratings for his TV shows with him.
“[My therapist] asked me, ‘Do you consider your best work to be the highest rated thing you’ve ever done?'” Simon recalled. “And I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘So why are you judging yourself on that?’ It was just like this massive load lifting off my shoulders.”
“I sent an email [to my staff] saying, ‘That’s it. I don’t want to know about ratings anymore.’ And it’s quite incredible because it now doesn’t feel like you’re chasing something,” he said. “You’re just making something you like in the hope that other people like it as well. If they don’t, they don’t,” he added of his previously unhealthy obsession with ratings.
How his perspective has changed
Simon Cowell hopes others, especially men, will change their minds about therapy.
“There’s nothing to be fearful of and no one’s going to look at you or judge you differently,” he told The Mirror’s “Men in Mind” podcast. “I think particularly men, as a kid especially, it was always, ‘Don’t cry … be a man. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s healthy to almost go the other way.
“We’re not all made of steel and there’s going to be times in our lives where you just need somebody to talk to,” he said.
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