Comedian breaks stigma of mental health with comedy

Comedian Kevin Breel talks about his past struggles with depression and suicide last night in the Michel Student center Ballroom. Photo by Shelby Caruso.
Comedian Kevin Breel talks about his past struggles with depression and suicide last night in the Michel
Student center Ballroom. Photo by Shelby Caruso.

Comedian and writer Kevin Breel shared his story of struggle with depression and suicide in the Michel Student Center Ballroom last night.

He started off by talking about his father’s depression and how his father used alcohol to cope.

“I grew up in a home where it wasn’t uncommon for my dad to be passed out in the middle of the day or to be brought in by the police,” Breel said. “He just wasn’t present for himself or his family.”

To cope with his father’s addiction, Breel said he spent most of his time at his best friend’s house, which became a second home to him. Unfortunately, his best friend later died in a car accident.

“We were supposed to start high school together and share lockers, and that was just ripped away from me,” Breel said. “His death marked the first time I felt such an enormous sense of pain, loss and depression.”

Breel said he tried to deal with his depression by hiding it.

“I decided to pretend like things were going better than they were and pretend that I was stronger than I was,” he said. “I put up these walls around me so nobody could get in or see what was going on inside me.”

The depression did not subside, and eventually Breel started to have suicidal thoughts. These thoughts culminated one day in 2011 when he wrote his suicide note.

“When I finished the note, I kept rereading it over and over again,” Breel said. “I thought to myself, ‘Everything on this piece of paper is this big secret that I’ve kept from everyone, and I can’t get any help because nobody knows I’m hurting. I can’t quit on myself if I’ve never tried to help myself.’”

The next day he talked to his mother about his suicidal thoughts and depression, and she suggested he see a counselor.

“The counselor I started seeing was this cool eastern European dude with pointy shoes and with an accent that made everything sound smart or sexy,” Breel said. “He didn’t give me answers, but he did ask me questions that I had been running from for years.”

After a year of counseling, Breel said he got into a better place with his depression, however, he soon learned about the suicide of a young girl near his hometown, which deeply moved him. He asked his counselor for advice about what to do.

“He said to me, ‘All of our lives are stories we tell each day by living, and you can do two things with your story: you can be ashamed of it or you can share it,’” Breel said.

Breel got a chance to share his story when a friend invited him to speak at a TEDx event in Vancouver. He titled his talk “Confessions of a Depressed Comic,” and it would eventually become one the most viewed videos on the TED website.

Since then, Breel has become a mental health activist.

“We lose millions of people each year to suicide, and yet our society isn’t capable of talking about it,” Breel said. “I genuinely believe from the bottom of my heart that the people in this room, yourself and myself, are going to have to be the ones who change the mental health conversation for the next generation, and we’ll do it by owning up to it and being honest.”

Audience members said they could identify with his message.

“I like how he combined comedy with a serious topic, and I think he got across his message well,” freshman biology major Keina Suggs said. “Personally, I don’t suffer from depression, but I have friends that do, and his story helped me better understand what they are going through.”

Other students said Breel’s message left them optimistic.

“I think everybody has inner struggles they go through and his talk highlights that you don’t need to struggle alone,” freshman communication major Samuel Kuhlmeyer said. “What’s weird is that as sad as the topic [is], I left the talk feeling very positive.”