Maurice Benard finds purpose in sharing his 'State of Mind'

Maurice Benard, who has played Sonny on ABC’s soap opera “General Hospital” for more than 30 years, has made destigmatizing mental health a passion project

Alicia Rancilio
Thursday 16 February 2023 20:26 GMT
People Maurice Benard
People Maurice Benard (2019 Invision)

Maurice Benard is doing well. He's had front-burner stories as Sonny Corinthos on ABC's “General Hospital” for more than 30 years. His family is good: Daughter Cailey is pregnant and son Joshua's acting career is on the rise. The daytime Emmy-winning actor also recently hit a milestone when his YouTube series “State of Mind with Maurice Benard,” reached 100,000 followers.

But Benard's current outlook is particularly remarkable because things got dark during the early days of the pandemic. The actor has written about his struggles with anxiety and bipolar disorder. Lockdown was difficult and anxiety-inducing and not having the routine of going to work made him depressed. He admits he contemplated taking his life but sees that “horrible period” as a turning point.

”I looked in the mirror and said, ‘This cannot happen again.’ I think that scared me so much that I had to figure out how to fix myself."

Benard says he now has the tools to catch himself when dark thoughts creep in and strategies to bring himself out. Some days are harder than others but overall, he's more Zen and social with others. Before, he couldn't even go to the supermarket without feeling anxious. “I literally wouldn’t talk to anybody, I’d put my head down. I was nervous. Now I’m like, ‘Hey! What are you doing? How you doing, guy?' .. I used to watch people talk to others and I’d be like, ‘I don’t know how they do that.'”

By helping others, he realizes he’s helping himself, too. “My psychiatrist said, ’State of Mind' has been like your therapy,′ and it’s true. It has.”

Benard posts a new “State of Mind” episode on Sundays featuring a one-on-one conversation with actors, doctors and others where he uses honesty, humility and even humor to approach personal struggles and coping mechanisms.

He says he approaches the interviews like “a first date” and records in a room in his house. “General Hospital” fans will appreciate that he's taped episodes with current and past cast members, but he also speaks with other daytime stars including Eric Braeden and Melissa Claire Egan of “The Young and the Restless," film actors like Frank Grillo and producer Todd Fisher, the son of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, brother of Carrie Fisher.

Former co-star Sarah Joy Brown, who originated the role of Carly on “General Hospital,” says Benard "seems happier now than I've ever seen him.”

Brown recently appeared on “State of Mind” and admits to feeling nervous beforehand because she and Benard hadn’t seen each other in years. As they caught up, she revealed she was grieving the death of her father. “Saying this thing out loud, sharing the pain, and the experience with Maurice, allowed others to see me in perhaps my most vulnerable moment.” Brown has since received “hundreds” of messages from people sharing their own stories of loss, which has been healing. “The pain of losing my father isn’t gone, but it’s better today than before we taped our episode.”

Another former co-star, Tyler Christopher, also was surprised by how cathartic the experience was.

“Never have I been so open and sincere regarding my struggles,” said Christopher. “The fact that I was able to do it with a friend like Maurice makes it only more memorable. I don’t regret a single moment... He treated me with respect and never revealed an ounce of judgement. For that I am infinitely grateful.”

Viewers Sharon Bagozzi of Virginia Beach, Virginia, is thankful for an episode with actor Tajh Bellow, who spoke about having ADHD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Bagozzi recognized similarities with herself and called her doctor.

“It’s a wonderful thing that he’s doing. There’s been many times when he’s touched on subjects that have touched my life,” Bagozzi said.

Benard's been speaking openly about mental illness for decades. Before Selena Gomez, Naomi Osaka or Simone Biles set public boundaries for their own mental health, Benard appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2004 to talk about his own struggles.

“When I did ‘Oprah,’ I thought that that was gonna happen then, but it kind of didn’t," Benard said. "Since the pandemic, I always say it’s a curse and a blessing because... (mental health) is everywhere. There still needs to be growth, but it’s so much better since the pandemic. I just see the commercials on TV. They’re all over and I have all of them. I have bipolar 1, I have psoriasis, I have anxiety, I have depression, I have them all. It’s a joke that every time I'm like, ‘Oh, that’s me, that’s me.’"

He also published a memoir in 2020 called “Nothing General About It: How Love (And Lithium) Saved Me On and Off General Hospital," which became a New York Times bestseller.

Benard, who does his own promos and edits for the show, enlists his wife Paula, a talent manager and agent, to help with bookings. He wants to speak with athletes, he'd love to hire someone to help with production, and he wants to take the show outdoors for man on the street-style interviews with everyday people.

He devotes much of his free time to working on and promoting “State of Mind," interacting with fans on social media, posting silly videos to keep them entertained.

“My family sat me down like an intervention. I’m not joking. They said, ‘Do you think you’re addicted to social media?’ And I said, ‘I am obsessed. I don’t really know if I’m addicted. It’s my job, it’s a business, so I have to. But yes, I overdo it. And then my son’s like, 'Could you not do it for a week? I said, ’I think I can.'

Benard has yet to meet that challenge, but he's working on it.

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