Holly Madison Gets Candid About Postpartum DepressionThe ‘Girls Next Door’ icon talks leaving the Playboy mansion, being diagnosed with autism, and the importance of maternal mental health.
When The Girls Next Door dropped in 2005, Playboy icon Holly Madison quickly became a household name as viewers got to know the woman who was, at that moment in time, Hugh Hefner’s “number one” girlfriend. But, as you could probably predict today, Madison’s time in the notorious Playboy Mansion wasn’t as cheery as reality TV made it out to be. (Madison previously alleged that Hefner was verbally and emotionally abusive and refused to practice safe sex.)
As the media continues to reckon with how careless young women in that era were treated, Madison continues to reclaim her story. Since 2022, Madison has been hosting the Girls Next Level podcast with her former costar Bridget Marquardt. “I think it's been really helpful,” Madison tells Wondermind of how this retelling of the Playboy series and empire impacts her mental health.
“I do get triggered sometimes. Sometimes I won't know what's going to trigger me until we're actually talking about it, and I'll be like, Oh, I feel so uncomfortable talking about this. But overall, I think it's really healthy to talk it out and talk it out with a friend and let everybody hear what I have to say.” She continues, “Everybody's [not always] going to agree with you all the time, but still I think it's really cathartic for me to be doing that.”
Madison continues to dive into the world of Playboy by exploring the murders of its former models with Season 2 of The Playboy Murders, which premiered on Investigation Discovery in January. And come March 25, she’ll host a new series called Lethally Blonde, which looks into “the dark side of people pursuing beauty and fame.”
Amid her busy schedule, unpacking her early 20s, and solidifying her space in the true crime genre, Madison says she’s learning more about her recent autism diagnosis and also how to protect her peace. Here, the host gives us a glimpse inside her mind, from her experiences with postpartum depression to the advice she’d give her younger self.
WM: How are you doing lately?
Holly Madison: I'm doing really great lately, actually. I feel like I'm happier than I've been in a while. My New Year's resolution—or one of them, anyway—was to not get stressed out over things that don't matter. I've been challenged a couple times since the new year started, but I think I'm hanging in there.
WM: How can you tell what is worth the energy and the stress?
HM: I wasn't with them that day, but [my kids] got in a car accident [last year]. They're fine, but it was really scary for a while. My son had a broken arm. My daughter had to go to the hospital a couple times just to be watched and make sure she was OK. That was really horrifying and stressful.
Those kinds of huge events, you can't really help if something like that happens. It’s going to hit you like a lightning bolt to the gut no matter what you're doing. It just made me realize that my body can't take this anymore. I can't get stressed out over a negative comment on one of my social media accounts or somebody being petty. I have to really intentionally let it roll off my back and not affect me physically. I can process it mentally, but I need to create some kind of barrier.
But I've been challenged. Me and my podcast partner, we got together and we recorded about 10 hours of content ahead of time; we realized we weren't going to be in the same city for about six weeks. Something went wrong and the audio didn't take on any of them, so we had to scramble at the last minute and redo all that 10 hours of stuff. And I'm like, OK, I'm not going to let this get to me. Everybody's healthy. Everybody's good.
WM: You recently shared that social media has helped you realize that you are autistic. Do you mind talking about receiving a diagnosis as an adult?
HM: My mom pointed it out to me maybe about three or four years ago, and said she'd always suspected that since I was a kid but we never got a diagnosis or anything. I was thinking about it for a while and looking up the symptoms online and seeing creators on my For You page that are autistic. I saw that I really related to them, and I thought a lot of the symptoms applied to me, so I finally got a formal diagnosis this last summer.
They do it over the course of seven different appointments—at least, that's what it was for me. My therapist also took appointments with my mom and my ex-husband [because] they want to talk to people who've interacted with you throughout different phases in your life.
It's been really helpful for me to be able to know what's going on with me, be able to explain that to other people, and it's just been a really educating journey for sure.
WM: What particular aspects of your personality or mind has the diagnosis helped you understand a bit better?
HM: It's made me understand my decision-making process a little bit better or why I seem to, in the past, have felt safe with people I'm not really safe with. I think when you grow up having a hard time connecting with other people, if there's somebody who's really good at manipulating and making individuals feel special, they know how to do that. You can feel like it's natural and feel like, Oh, well, maybe this is the right person for me. I was never connecting with anybody else. So I think it's a little bit easier to fall prey to that if you don't understand what's going on with you.
WM: If you could give your younger self some advice, what would you say?
HM: I would say take more pictures, don't make fear-based decisions, and have a lot of patience with yourself. I think I never had patience with myself when I was younger. I always put a ton of pressure on myself to achieve and do more. And that can get in the way of you enjoying your day-to-day life.
In my case, [the pictures are] to have more evidence. I come from a place where I told my story about my 20s and so many people want to gaslight and not believe or accuse me of lying. I have a ton of pictures I took from that era and a ton of things, but there's times I'm talking about things on the podcast where I'm like, I wish I had a picture of that cookie drawer or just some random thing I would've never thought to take a picture of.
These days it's different because, with our phones in our hands all the time, I'm taking pictures of the most random stuff all day. If you're like, What was I doing on January 21st?, you can see what your day looked like because you're taking pictures of things. But back then, we didn't have phones, so it wasn't like that. I wish I just had more random pictures, so I have proof, like, “See what I'm talking about.”
WM: What else comes to mind when you think of your mental health journey?
HM: I've been very prone to depression throughout my life, whether it was when I was a kid… I lived in the Pacific Northwest and had seasonal affective disorder, so it would affect me then. I got out of it a little bit when I moved to California and everything was sunny, but then I realized it was more than that too.
I tended to slip into depression a little more easily. I mean, I was going through a lot of things in my 20s, so I have to cut me some slack, but my depression would get triggered by situational things. It's something I've learned to manage, and I feel like really only in the past couple years [have I] really come out of it.
There have been periods in my life, like when I first left the mansion and I was in Vegas doing a show and when I first had my kids, [that] things were great. But then there was postpartum depression to deal with. So I feel like in my life, there's kind of that underlying depression I have that's lurking and different things trigger it, but I feel like I'm at a place right now where I can handle it really well. It's just been a journey.
WM: Is there anything that helped you manage postpartum depression or helps you when you’re also taking care of other people, like your kids?
HM: I think you just need to take a deep breath. Take a minute for yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for help if there's someone else in the house. Don't be afraid to rely on the TV or the iPad if you need a minute. I didn't want my kids on screens when they were super little either, and their dad and I were really strict about how much iPad time they can have. But I've always been fortunate enough to have help. And they have a really great dad too. I always wonder if I were a single mom doing it on my own, what would I do? I just feel like, don't shame yourself if you need to plop the kids in front of the TV for an hour or something if you need a minute just to finish your work or the chores or whatever. Healthy mom equals happy kids, I think.
Postpartum depression is so real. I realized our health care system is not ideal. I feel like, in a perfect world, when you're going in for your prenatal appointments, women should be referred to a therapist, and you should meet with that therapist. In a perfect world, if this was all funded, it should be a requirement to meet with that therapist once before you have the baby. Even if you're feeling totally mentally fine and you're like, ‘I don't have a history of this in my family; I think I'll be OK,’ it would be nice, I think, for everybody. My suspicion is that postpartum depression is much more common than anybody says. I feel like the imbalance in hormones you go through when you're pregnant will just take a toll on anybody.
In an ideal world, as part of the prenatal doctor visits, you should [meet with a therapist]. And you'll have their number so that if you're struggling after you have a baby, you have somebody you know you can call and you're somewhat familiar with them and they know you a little bit. I feel like that's another challenge too when you're dealing with mental health: When you realize things [are] really bad, you're already in such a bad space mentally and emotionally that to try to reach out and find the right therapist just seems like such a daunting task. [It] would be so smart if we just nip that in the bud with pregnant women. I feel like that would be so helpful for so many women and their kids.
WM: As your kids get older, what mental health messages are you hoping to instill in them?
HM: I just don't want any shame around the mental health discussion at all. I want them to feel free to come to me with anything. They know I'm on the spectrum. I talk about my emotions a lot. We haven't really gotten to the discussion of depression yet, but I think they're a little young for that. But I really want to open up that conversation, and I want them to always be able to talk about their feelings and ask for help if they need it. I think that's so important.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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