This Wednesday night, Kevin Breel just couldn't get a nearly full Robsham Theater to stop laughing. From the second the endearingly awkward 21-year-old Canadian stepped on stage and started cracking jokes about drunken Bostonians, it felt more like a conversation than a presentation.
Kevin Breel is a stand up comedian by trade, and not a bad one at that. He is one of the youngest feature acts in Canadian history, having graced some of the biggest stages all along the West Coast like the House of Blues and the Colosseum in Las Vegas before he could even legally gamble. The entire theater could hardly catch its breath between laughs as Kevin awkwardly hopped around/off the stage, making jokes about our school's Latin-emblazoned crest and a smattering of other subjects.
However, if Kevin was merely a young comedian I wouldn't have much of a reason to be telling you about him. What is truly remarkable about Kevin is that he has another side, a side he would have never let us see just a few years ago.
Kevin Breel, stand-up comedian extraordinaire, struggles with depression. The full theater, once filled with deafening laughter, fell silent. Suddenly, the towering, well over 6-foot, young man became very, very small.
Kevin told us that from adolescence, he had experienced what he called a "crushing feeling of hopelessness" in his daily life. He experienced a lack of fulfillment, loss of hope and next to no happiness; but this was not the hardest part of his depression. The most difficult part was the loneliness. The kind of loneliness that creeps up on you in a room full of people that you call your best friends.
Kevin was living two lives: one with a smile and full of laughter, the Kevin his friends knew, and another in which he felt like he didn't matter, full of a crushing hopelessness. He wouldn't dare let anyone else look into that second life, and so he recalled sitting on the edge of his bed with a hand-full of pills and a pen and a pad, writing the story of that hidden life before he planned to take his own.
However, what he realized as he looked down at his sloppily written story is that this was the first time he had brought that life into the real world. He had been so concerned with hiding his feelings away that getting them out onto paper and into the world made him think, "How could I quit now when I've never tried to change?" Kevin told his family, his friends, and importantly his counselor about his other side and was overwhelmed by all the people that truly cared about him.
A few years later, Kevin got on stage at a TEDx confrence, but this time not to crack jokes about sloppy drunk girls or the weather, but to have a conversation about the silent depression epidemic sweeping across North America. His TED Talk Confessions of a Depressed Comic went viral overnight, with over half a million people seeing it in 30 days and over 3,000,000 total views. He felt as if his job was to stand up for those that feel that crippling hopelessness and show them that they are not alone.
Depression is a very real problem. It's not abstract and far away like Ebola or Malaria, it is right here, on this campus. In North America alone over 1,000,000 people take their own lives due to depression and around the world an estimated 121,000,000 people struggle with some form of it. That's more than 1/3 of the population of the United States. Just because someone may have a smile on their face does not mean they're alright.
As a community, our biggest take away from Kevin's talk should be that we are not alone, that there is hope and just because you may not struggle with depression yourself, nothing is stopping you from being that help and support for one of the hundreds people in our community that does. Just by starting the conversation, you will make a difference.