As a teenager, Kevin Breel almost took his own life. His story — so powerfully told in his viral TEDx Talk, “Confessions of a Depressed Comic” — gives voice to an often silent struggle and offers a message of hope.
In honor of Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day, we spoke with Kevin about living with depression and speaking out about it. Below, our conversation.
As you say in your talk, people are often afraid to admit they feel depressed. What helped you come forward and speak up about living with depression?
Kevin Breel: Confessions of a depressed comicI had gotten to a point where I no longer felt afraid of who I was or the fact that I deal with depression. I no longer felt ashamed or embarrassed by it. It can be really hard and exhausting to keep sharing my story onstage, but ultimately, I know that has the potential to help people. And that’s all that matters to me.
How have people reacted?
The reaction has been the most amazing part of speaking at TEDx. When the video first went viral, I remember checking my email one time, and I had almost two thousand new emails just out of nowhere. The one that stuck with me most was from one girl who sent me an email with her suicide note attached. She said she had watched my talk and she didn’t need it anymore. That was pretty powerful. And I think if you go look at the video right now, the top comment is, “This talk is the reason I put my razor down.” That’s so amazing to me. I really couldn’t ask for more.
There’s a lovely moment in your talk when you say that hurt has forced you to have hope. When you’re in pain and hope is hard to find, how do you remind yourself that it’s still there?
When I’m dealing with pain, I keep reminding myself that hope and help are always available for me; I just have to choose to reach for them. That’s really hard, but it keeps me accountable. I never used to have that perspective. I used to really personally identify with my pain, and I wanted to stay stuck in that place of hurt because it had become a comfortable place to stay. Now, I realize that being mentally healthy is just like being physically healthy; it takes work. You have to take preventive measures, you have to make sure you are checking in with yourself, you have to make sure you are doing the work. And it is work. But it’s worth it.
During your darkest times, was there someone who reached out to you? Someone you remember, a moment that stayed with you and helped you find the light?
Yeah, definitely. It was actually just a quote that I read one time. It was by Carl Jung, and it said, “Sure, a tree can grow to heaven. But only if its roots go to hell.” I remember how that made me feel a sense of peace for the first time in a long time. It made me reframe the way I looked at my pain and my struggle. For the first time ever, I thought, “Maybe this is giving me something. Maybe this is showing me some depth in life. Maybe this isn’t all bad.” And that changed everything. I’m very thankful for that quote to this day.
In the spirit of Suicide Prevention Day, what can people do to help friends or family who are suffering from depression or considering suicide?
If you feel like a friend or a family member is struggling, think about how you can reach out to them with kindness and empathy before you think of what you should say. Letting them know that they are not alone and they are loved can truly save a life. They won’t hear your words at first; they will only feel your presence. But it all starts with someone who cares enough to reach out and ask, “Are you okay?” Please, do not be afraid to ask that question. Ask your friend. Ask a family member. Ask yourself. And be okay with whatever the answers are.
This piece originally was published on the TEDx Blog. Read much more about the wide constellation of happenings in the TEDx world »