Press release from Red Bank Regional High School
As the six-foot-six captain of the basketball team, the life of the party and a natural stand-up comedian, the teenaged Kevin Breel lived two lives. One was the confident and outgoing persona that he presented to the world — and the other hid itself away, only to surface in the privacy of his room.
“It was exhausting;” he told a captivated audience at Red Bank Regional High School. “The lie was getting bigger and bigger and harder to change.”
One day, when he felt he had hit rock bottom, he decided to end the charade and picked up his pen to write his suicide note. That was his wake-up call, and somehow he summoned the courage to do the unthinkable: break the taboo, and talk about it to his family. Five years later, the 22-year old author, performer, TED Talk sensation and mental health activist Kevin Breel is still talking; bringing his important message of teenage depression and awareness to audiences from coast to coast — a calling that brought him to Red Bank Regional for a recent assembly.
Breel’s visit was sponsored by The SOURCE, the School-based Youth Service Program at RBR. It was the only high school stop on the current North American promotional tour for his book Boy Meets Depression: Or Life Sucks and Then You Live; published by Random House and released in September of this year. It was also a visit that was prompted by a poignant invitation from RBR senior Julie Cocker, a member of the Youth Council Executive Committee for Society for the Prevention of Suicide in Freehold. Incredibly engaging, funny and self-deprecating, Breel commanded his audience’s attention on a very heavy subject; informing his audience that “This generation not only has the power to change the conversation, but to change the culture.”
Pictured with guest speaker Kevin Breel are (left to right) SOURCE director Suzanne Keller, plus RBR students Amy Cavallo (Union Beach), Mackenzie Walsh (Little Silver) and Julie Cocker (Union Beach).
Like many who suffer from depression, Breel’s mental illness had genetic roots, and the guest speaker used the opportunity to describe his life with a depressed father who self-medicated with alcohol and drugs. The inherited condition was triggered at the age of 13 by the sudden death of a good friend — but years of living with a depressed parent taught him to suppress and deny what he was experiencing.
Kevin left high school at 17 and began a stand-up comic career in his Canadian hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. His talent propelled him into a promising career, while he simultaneously sought counseling for his depression. Just about that time, he was deeply touched by the suicide of local girl whose silent plea for help was recorded online with words she wrote on flash cards. He began to research suicide to surprisingly discover that one million people a day die by their own hand, and that it was the number one cause of death for young people in his county of Vancouver. He asked his counselor what he should do about his profound feelings and connection to the young suicide. The counselor responded, “All of us have a story…we can either share it or be ashamed of it.”
For Kevin Breel, the choice was to share — and soon the private pain and secret feelings that he once hid from the world had become a very public part of his comedy act. By the age of 19, his popularity landed him the chance to deliver a TEDTalk program designed to help break the silence and stigma surrounding depression — a talk presented under the name “Confessions of a Depressed Comic.” Shepherded by the website Upworthy, it was promoted with the headline, “This kid thinks he can save so many lives if we say these four words: I Struggle with Depression.”
A video of his presentation went viral, resulting in one of the most frequently viewed TED Talks of all time, registering over 4 million views. He transitioned into a new career as a mental health activist; becoming the national spokesperson for the Bell “LET’S TALK” Campaign, visiting over 100 college campuses throughout North America, and bringing his message to mass audiences via MTV, CNN, NBC, CBS the Wall Street Journal, and the Huffington Post.
As Breel explained, people from all over the world would write to him seeking advice — and the overwhelming response formed the inspiration for his book; a project made necessary by the fact that “I couldn’t reply to all those messages. Kids deserved more than four lines on a Facebook.”
The author left the students with a story about one of the thousands of young people who corresponded with him.
“Her name was Amber,” he told them, “and she sent me an email with the subject line ‘Please Read.’ How can you ignore a subject line like that? Anyway, she stumbled across my TED Talk and watched it the day she had planned to take her own life. She wrote ‘For you, because I don’t need it anymore.’ Attached was her suicide note.”
Breel concluded his appearance at RBR by signing copies of his new book for students. The books were pre-purchased by The SOURCE for distribution to the student body, and will be available for reference at the school. For more information on Kevin Breel, visit his website at http://kevinbreel.com/.