Newark YouTuber makes mental health trendy, connecting it with pop culture, true crime
A video about a conspiracy theory is Todd Grande’s most popular to date on his YouTube channel.
The video, “David Icke Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory | The Danger of COVID Misinformation,” has 1.3 million views.
Dr. Grande, a Newark man, is a licensed professional counselor of mental health and a licensed chemical dependency counselor. He has been making YouTube videos for nearly a decade. But it’s been only since 2019 that he’s framed his videos around topics like pop culture, politics and true crime, viewed from his perspective as a mental health professional.
This niche has helped him boost his channel ("Dr. Todd Grande") to more than 700,000 subscribers as of this month.
“It's been a wild ride,” Grande said to Delaware Online/The News Journal. “It can definitely take some time to build up kind of an influencer … social media type of business like that. And [there’s] a lot of mistakes and retooling.”
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In May 2020, Grande quit his associate professor job at Wilmington University and began making YouTube videos full-time. YouTube is now Grande’s primary source of income, he said.
He’s also releasing a new book on Wednesday, May 19, titled “The Psychology of Notorious Serial Killers” on Amazon.com. It is based on scripts from about a dozen of his videos where he analyzes the cases of serial killers, as topic his fans frequently request, he said.
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In 2014, Grande launched his YouTube channel exclusively for his students at Wilmington University, where he was a professor in mental health counseling.
Grande holds a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior College, an online school in New York. He earned his master’s degree from Wilmington University; and his doctoral degree from Regent University in Virginia.
YouTube served the purpose of warehousing videos that would be around forever for his students to see. In the early days, Wilmington University was using web-based software where videos were stored, he said. One of his colleagues told him she was concerned the university’s videos might get deleted at some point, so he began using YouTube as a backup, he said.
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Grande wasn’t making the same kind of engaging videos in his early days that he’s become popular for now. Back then, his videos were very academic and included a lot of thumbnail graphics and charts.
“Once people started watching, I kind of realized the quality of those first 10 videos were not so good. I think I deleted about four of them,” the 49-year-old YouTuber said. “They were really bad by any standard on YouTube, [including] the sound quality and disfluencies. I look at them now and cringe.”
Grande uses research from news articles, along with his background in mental health counseling, to analyze lots of trending topics. A lover of true crime shows, Grande also has a passion for weaving dark humor into some of his videos.
One of his latest uploads is an analysis of how Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, are planning to divorce.
Other videos he’s analyzed over the last month include one that focused on the complicated life of rapper DMX. In another, he investigates whether BDSM practitioners are dangerous, with a focus on the high-profile murder of Jane Bashara.
He's also analyzed the verdict for the George Floyd trial and the role of police subculture.
Grande often points out that he’s not diagnosing the people in his videos, but rather he’s speculating about what could be happening in whatever situation they’re in.
He keeps his ear to the streets
Grande lives in the comments section of his videos, he said. He stays connected to his supporters and listens to their suggestions for what person or topic they’d like him to tackle in a future video. “But I also kind of look at what I think I can do in terms of making an interesting video, like if I can speak to the topic,” he explained.
A few days ago, he made a video where he attempted to analyze the case of Josh Duggar, a man recently charged with child porn who starred in TLC’s reality TV show “19 Kids and Counting.”
“I had maybe 250 requests for that one video. That was one of the most requested in the last few months,” he said.
Ultimately, Grande said, he picks his videos based on “how popular I think it'll be and how engaging I think it’ll be, mixed with what type of message I can put on there that has value.”
Conspiracy video isn’t his most popular?
Based on YouTube’s analytics, his most popular video is the “David Icke Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory,” which he uploaded in March 2020.
That one did so well, he said, because David Icke is a popular British conspiracy theorist who’s been shamed by multiple social media platforms. Last year, Icke was banned from Twitter for misleading posts about COVID, according to Yahoo.com. Both his Facebook and YouTube accounts were suspended.
Yet Grande argues that while his video about Icke has the most views on his channel — with 1.3 million views — it’s not the most popular on his page, because he also puts a lot of stock into the ratio of likes to dislikes on each one. “Are people viewing because they like you or your topic, or are they viewing because they hate you and your topic?”
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That conspiracy video has 15,000 likes and 20,000 dislikes. Grande said conspiracy theorists like to watch Icke’s video, then they'll say they hate it, which explains why the dislikes overpowered the likes for the video he made.
This YouTuber considers his most popular video to be his second most-viewed vid, titled “Chris Watts | Psychology, Narcissism, Rage, Infidelity, & Murder.” That video has 1.2 million views with 24,000 likes and 1,000 dislikes.
Of the 13 most-viewed videos on his channel, a thread of crime cases connects some of them, including ones on Casey Anthony, Michael Jackson, Ted Bundy and JonBenet Ramsey.
“Chris Watts was special, I think even among all those cases, because he did something that we just don't see very often,” Dr. Grande said. “He wiped out his whole family. But he had no predisposing factors. He had no criminal history.”
What is society getting wrong about mental health?
The phrase “mental health” has become more mainstream over the last few years. It’s a broad phrase that means different things to different people.
As a mental health professional, Grande likens it to a car someone brings to the shop.
“If you had a motor vehicle, and you brought it to a mechanic, and all you knew was that it was broken, the only word you had is it was ‘broken.’ Well, that could be a turn-signal bulb is failed, all the way to the engine has seized,” Grande said. “So the word ‘broken’ doesn't tell you a lot about what needs to be done, what's actually wrong and what needs to be done to fix it.”
What Grande finds so damaging is the idea that society sees people with mental health disorders as if “they’re broken, and they’re abnormal,” he said. “They're distressing. But they are normal.”
More than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Due to the stigma around mental health, Grande said, many people that have symptoms keep it a secret. “So they get categorized as normal. But if they really expressed what was going on, they would be categorized as abnormal.”
It is in the area of employment where people with mental health disorders are discriminated against the most, he said, whether they are depressed, have mood swings or flashbacks or some other challenge.
“’They don't fit in. There's no place [for them] in a workforce.’ For somebody like that, this is the message we hear from society. This is what we hear from big employers,” Grande said. “That is, I think, a disastrously illogical conclusion.”
He doesn’t believe society has to be so tight that it excludes everybody “who’s anxious, who’s depressed, and who has substance-use problems.”
America has a history of the pendulum of acceptance swinging back and forth as it relates to mental health, he observed.
Right now, he said, the pendulum has swung to a point where society doesn’t want to deal with people with severe mental health disorders like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Yet this group, he said, isn’t going anywhere, and at some point it’s going to become unsustainable to keep pushing them out of the way.
Acceptance of people’s differences should be normalized, not demonized, he contended.
“This idea that, again, is like a vehicle that you can send to a mechanic and have brought back. [But] that can't happen with people,” he said. “The symptom patterns are going to manifest for a long time.”
Trauma in Black people: It's like 'gaslighting'
One of the videos Grande made recently was analyzed George Floyd’s trial.
What does mental health look like to a group that's suffered oppression for centuries?
“What's it like to be a Black person and see George Floyd murdered, executed by an armed agent of the state? And then watch the trial and hear people say, ‘Well, he died of fentanyl’ or ‘he died of methamphetamine’ when scientists are saying, ‘No, he died because this guy had his knee on his neck,’ Grande said.
“There's almost a degree of gaslighting. There's almost a degree of, 'You know, you're the problem. The Black person is the problem.' And that's very invalidating to a group that suffered so much.”
Grande said it’s hard for other races to comprehend the Black experience, sort of how someone who isn’t depressed tries to understand someone with severe depression.
“What's it like to drive a vehicle and have to worry that a police officer is gonna pull you over and murder you? That's what Black people deal with. It's not theoretical, it's literal,” he said.
Some of the ways trauma has manifested in Black people is anxiety, he said. Since American descendants of slaves are virtually a wealth-less group, compared to whites, they commonly experience concerns about “putting food on the table and surviving,” Grande said. "I think there's also a degree of maybe depression as well, or low mood in general.”
It’s common for trauma victims to self-medicate, too. “For many, that leads to considering substance use as a way to escape the pain, which is natural. That's not particular to any racial group,” Grande said. “It's natural for anyone who's anxious and depressed because it's a way to temporarily try to solve the problem.”
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Striving to be as professional as possible has been the key to Grande's success on YouTube. He said it's important to have a quality camera and audio setup because it communicates to viewers that you're serious about your craft.
Grande spends more than 70 hours per week making videos. It takes about 10 hours to create a 15-minute video, he said. His biggest chunk of time is dedicated to writing the outline/script. That takes about four to six hours. He uses his laptop as a teleprompter to read his script while he's recording his shows, he said.
It takes about an hour to record each show because “there’s a lot of mistakes.” It takes about two hours to research each topic to see if there’s enough compelling info on a topic to make a show in the first place. Then it takes around one-and-a-half hours to edit his videos, with an additional hour that it takes for his video to upload.
Two pieces of advice for aspiring YouTubers is to upload videos on a consistent basis, he said, and to make sure every second of the video keeps audiences engaged, even if the vid is only 2 minutes.
“What I see in a lot of videos is very good moments. They say something funny or interesting, or the editing was good, or whatever. And then there’s a lot of dead time, a lot of time where it doesn't always feel like they might be respecting the time of the audience,” he said.
“If you look at the most successful movies or television shows, they bring the good acting, the good script, writing, the CGI, whatever it is, the cinematography — they bring it the whole time. The whole movie is good.”
Andre Lamar is the features/lifestyle reporter. If you have an interesting story idea, email Andre Lamar at email@example.com.