By Paul Kibala
Kevin Breel, outgoing, funny and confident TED Talk sensation, appears an unlikely advocate for mental health.
“It’s rewarding to see people bring this conversation to campuses,” Breel said of the organization To Write Love on Her Arms, which helps people talk about and overcome issues of depression, anxiety and suicide.
In a talk given at Roscoe West on Tuesday, April 8, the 20-year-old writer, stand-up comedian and British Columbia native, realized he must openly discuss his depression and contemplated suicide after winning a high school basketball tournament.
“I felt like I was living two different lives: one on the surface and another that lurked beneath,” Breel said. “I felt alone, like I was living a lie.”
In the forthcoming weeks, Breel talked to coaches and counselors and finally a therapist, realizing that the prospect of social exile mattered little compared to keeping his detrimental feelings hidden.
Though initially finding it “difficult to be honest, vulnerable,” Breel said this outlet had a positive influence on him.
While attending these sessions, Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old who had comitted suicide, became an international story in 2012, but faded fast from the headlines.
As she was also from the British Columbia area, Breel recognized the persisting emotional toll the community felt long after the news media had forgotten the tragedy, which spurred him to take action.
Twelve to 15 teenagers commit suicide every day in North America. In Canada, suicide is the leading cause of death for people above age 20, and yet it remains a taboo subject and is largely ignored.
At 19, Breel gave a talk at his former high school, sharing his personal battle with depression.
Afterward, most of the students approached Breel to say how they related to his story. This eventually led to Breel’s TED Talk. After creating his TED Talk, Breel received an estimated 20,000 letters from people encouraging his candor and courage.
“Kevin was incredibly relatable,” senior elementary education major Amanda Zabel said. “I kept thinking how he’s 20 years old and has accomplished so much in the face of his own struggles.”
He shared one such message with the audience. It was from a girl named Amber who credited him with saving her life by way of his TED Talk.
Breel concluded by urging the audience to “be a character in someone else’s story who’s looking for hope, for redemption. And maybe we’ll have a lot less stories like Amanda’s, and a lot more stories like Amber’s.”
“I thought this was just going to be funny, but Kevin opened my eyes to a world I didn’t know,” senior marketing major Alex Black said.