Stand up comedian encourages dialogue about depression

Kevin Breel on stage.
Kevin Breel on stage. Kevin Breel

19-year-old Kevin Breel is not someone one might think has battled with depression in his short life.

As a stand-up comic, Breel is used to making people laugh, but now he wants to start a conversation with young people about dealing with depression and who they can turn to in times of need.

He is no stranger to that conversation. When he was in high school he struggled with depression and how to climb out of that dark place.

“I battled a pretty dark depression during high school and that was what ultimately led me to almost committing suicide,” said Breel. “Talking about it turned out to be pretty easy. And once I started to open my eyes to how many other people, specifically young people like myself, were struggling with depression, I knew I had to speak up and shatter that silence that I had lived in.”

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Breel was invited to speak at a TEDx event  in Ambleside in West Vancouver, by a teacher who had seen him speak at a school.

That speech has now been viewed more than 540,000 times on YouTube. It also has more than 550 comments.

“We [Breel and the school] kind of had to go back and forth on whether or not I would be able to speak about mental health,” he said, “but eventually they saw my passion and agreed to let me share my story.  I am really, really thankful for that.”
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Breel said the response to his talk has been ‘insane.’ “My website has crashed twice during this process and I have more than three thousand unread emails in my inbox I am still getting to,” he added. “I can’t believe the attention this has gotten and by virtue, the conversation it has started.  It has unquestionably been the most powerful and deeply humbling experience of my entire life.”

The young comic wants to help other young people understand they are not alone and it’s OK to talk about depression and how to manage those feelings. “We are just losing way too many kids to suicide right now,” he said. “It’s so scary and sad.  I don’t think people really understand the weight of the problem, but I get the emails, I talk to the parents who have lost their kid to suicide and it breaks my heart every time.”

In his opinion, Breel said as a society, people seem afraid to talk about suicide and depression. “How can we find an answer while we are petrified of the question?” he asked. “I find it very disheartening that our culture kind of just sweeps suicide under the rug and goes ‘well that’s disturbing so lets just ignore it’. That’s just not good enough in my opinion.”

Posting about these topics on the Internet can lead to negativity and criticism as the online space is one where people may say things they might not say otherwise, but Breel said it could also be the best place to have this conversation with other young people.

“Social media has given literally everybody a voice,” he said. “People are sharing my talk on their Facebook and using it as a conversation piece to talk about their own depression. To me, that is the best thing that could ever have come from my TED talk – getting people talking.  It is mind blowing to me that we celebrate our light so much and try to bury our darkness.”

But he does acknowledge the online space is difficult because everyone has a voice. “So you have a lot of very angry, very sad people coming out of the woodwork and sending their hateful, angry comments at my talk, or me, or just people who are being honest and saying they are battling mental health,” said Breel. “But that’s the internet for you – exposing every possible side of humanity.  Good, bad, ugly, all of it.  But all in all, I’ll take those angry messages with a smile knowing how much impact this has been able to have.  So it’s all good.”

Breel is now turning his sights to a documentary film, which he hopes will bring people from all backgrounds together to talk about depression and mental health. Ex-Canucks player and Stanley Cup champion, Geoff Courtnall, is already attached to the project, along with a handful of other people.

“We just want to show that look, it doesn’t matter whether you have money, whether you are famous, whether you work at Starbucks, or whether you are 15 years old, we can all be dealing with different degrees of mental health issues and it is okay to talk about them,” he said.

Once the film is complete, Breel will give it to high schools for free to show their students.

“We feel that is the appropriate space for the conversation and we think it could be really life changing to have this kind of content in the school curriculum.”

To learn more about Kevin Breel and the project, visit his website, or follow him on Twitter.


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