Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
And you should really care.
After all, half a million Canadians miss work each day due to a mental health related factor. Sometimes, it get’s too much to take. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those between 15-34 years of age in Canada.
Depression can – and I promise you does – affect countless young professionals whose lives look perfect on the surface. Of course, this image of “perfection” is only perpetuated by social media and the talent most of us have gained when it comes to being “on” and ‘faking it till we make it’.
Speaking of being “on,” nobody knows that feeling more than comic Kevin Breel. You’ve probably heard of him by now. When he was just 18-years-old, his TEDx talk, Confessions of a Depressed Comic, went viral – having now been viewed more than 2 million times. It’s one of the most watched TED talks ever; alongside the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Sir Ken Robinson.
In the brutally honest discussion, Breel discusses his struggles with depression, including a near suicide attempt, complete with a suicide note.
In the wake of his TED talk, the now 22-year-old Breel has become a well-known mental health activist and continues to share his struggles via a packed schedule of motivational speaking engagements. And today, Breel will take to Reddit for an “Ask Me Anything” segment, where he will use the platform to answer any questions surrounding his experience with mental health and suicidal thoughts.
While on September 15, Breel will release his first book – which he adamantly calls “100 per cent not a self-help book”. Titled Boy Meets Depression: Or Life Sucks and Then You Live, the book is a memoir of Breel’s personal struggles with depression and “living a life that wasn’t much of a life at all, but a consuming feeling of emptiness,” as he told me in a recent phone interview.
The hope is, through both the book and the Reddit AMA, that more people will be encouraged to face their emotions and struggles instead of run from them or hide them from other people, the way Breel once did.
“Part of the culture we live in is a perfection culture, we judge people how they present themselves, and that’s pretty much all you can go on,” says Breel. “You can judge people on their social media, or how good they tell you their weekend was or whatever, but there’s a lot of room for lying or exaggeration. People want to feel like they fit in, not to isolate themselves by saying ‘hey, this is what I’m going through.’ Because of this, people live under the illusion that they’re the only ones going through it.”
When it comes to mental health, he says there are two challenges – what you as an individual may face and how you fit into society. “The largest challenge is that people feel ashamed, or guilty,” he says.
“In my opinion, what creates the epidemic of suicide isn’t so much people being so hopeless in their life, but they feel that they can’t tell anyone,” says Breel. “They don’t want to waste anyone’s time, they don’t want to be a burden. You hear these sentiments echoed over and over.”
For this reason, his main goal is to bring human element to the issue so that people stop “walking around pretending that this isn’t a thing.”
Of course, metal health awareness has been helped in its emergence from the shadows thanks to a growing number of Hollywood elite admitting to their struggles, along with campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk, with Olympian Clara Hughes front and centre. And while that’s undoubtedly positive, there needs to be more accompanying action, says Breel.
“The thing that’s difficult, is that it’s easy in a sense to put a lot of famous or really successful people together at the top of the mountain and have them go ‘yeah, man, I’ve struggled before, I’ve had some dark days’” says Breel. “Then that gets to the media, and on social media and people go ‘oh man that’s crazy, I would have never guessed that person went through it.’ But really, for the person who is struggling – for example, a 16-year-old kid – I just think there needs to be more done for that person as opposed to millionaires.”
He even says that he’s become less relatable as he’s become more successful.
“It’s really easy for people to look at successful people, but my big issue is that it needs a trickle down effect. We need actual tangible things that happen for kids – not just all these stories,” says Breel. ”The reality is that it falls through the cracks in the school system. We aren’t taught from an early age to explore our emotions, pain, brokenness, so you’re put in this environment of be perfect, be good, do good, and you’ll be rewarded. If not, you’re kind of a loser. That’s my big problem.”
Awareness without action is just awareness, after all. Action needs to be taken from the elementary school system to the workplace.
For now, though, the hope is that people will connect via the Reddit initiative with shared experiences and stories. Breel hopes this will encourage more people to explore their emotions instead of run from them.
“There’s something very powerful in sharing and exploring yourself – the things that make you happy, sad, scared, and excited are a worthwhile pursuit. It’s not about having a sweet car and a big house or the dream to be sold on,” says Breel. “I think there’s something to be said about being really honest and wanting to explore those things that matter. For me, that’s what’s changed my life. As a teenager, I used to run away, now I run into it. When you run right into it you see what’s there isn’t that scary. It’s so much harder to run away.”
Breel’s Reddit “Ask Me Anything” goes down today at 4:30pm EST.