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Kevin Breel is a 19 year old Canadian writer and speaker who talks to students about depression and mental health – “two issues that are extremely close to my life”, he says.
Kevin shares his story in the hopes of inspiring other young people to get help and remove the stigma around depression.
In this TEDx talk, Kevin speaks from the heart about his story with depression, how it's impacted his life, and why he is ultimately grateful for it. Read our interview with Kevin below.
I know you write, and are a comedian, tell us what other things you enjoy doing in your free time?
When I'm not performing or working, I like to ride my motorcycle here in Victoria, B.C. It's so beautiful out here and I get a massive sense of peace taking my bike out for a ride early in the morning before the sun has really come up or a lot of cars are on the road. I'm also kind of obsessed with meditating. I go on extremely long walks all the time out to specific parts of a beach or a forest and then just close my eyes and meditate for however long feels good. I have a pretty hyper active mind so when I walk or ride my motorcycle or meditate it kind of gives me a break from that.
How has sharing your story changed you?
Sharing my story and my struggle with depression has changed my life in a lot of ways but none more important than giving me a sense of real freedom. I don't have to hide who I am anymore. That alone feels pretty amazing. It allows me to be closer with the people around me too because I don't have to fake a smile if I'm down or depressed- I can just talk about it with them. That's been really amazing- considering just two years ago I thought it might be better to take my own life than let people in on what I was going through. The other part of sharing my story that has changed me is the unbelievable amount of comments and messages from people all over the world who have gone through similar struggles. I literally have more than five hundred unread emails in my inbox right now that are all just from the last week since my TEDx talk came out. To me, that is unbelievable. Hearing other peoples stories and struggles has completely changed my whole perspective on the problem. I get emails from people in South Africa, from Australia, from Europe. It's truly touching to see how many people have reached out and offered their experiences with mental health. I'm really, really grateful for that.
What helps you to cope with depression?
I think what helps me cope with depression now is being comfortable enough with myself to explore my true feelings and emotions. When I was younger, when I got depressed, I couldn't shake it for weeks or months because I was really scared to look inside myself and try to understand what was wrong. I just wanted to push it away and pretend it wasn't there; and ultimately, that only makes your pain grow bigger. Now, when I'm depressed, I can sit there and "observe" it a little bit. I can ask myself questions without being afraid of the answers. That really helps. And of course, over six years I've learned a lot of different mechanisms to help me deal with my depression. I find meditation to be very helpful actually. It's like hitting the "off" switch on your mind for half an hour and getting back to a more peaceful and calm place. Also, exercise is extremely helpful too. Those are all little things I do to try and change the state that I'm in when I'm depressed.
What would you tell someone who has just been diagnosed with mental health issues?
What I would tell someone who has just been diagnosed with mental health issues is this isn't the end of the world. Far from it. You are not alone- not even close to being alone. There are literally millions of people in the world going through the exact same thing you are. But, I would also say that now you have to take control of your own life maybe more than you ever have before. You have to get yourself help when you need it, because no one else is going to be able to do that for you. You have to get in touch with yourself and be able to identify when you are starting to slip down a bad path. You have to be proactive about your health. All those things can't be over looked enough. Dealing with depression- or any mental illness - isn't a quick fix. There are no over night solutions. It's about understanding who you are, what you deal with, and how you can best handle it. You can be very successful and very happy as a person living with a mental illness; but it's on you to really believe that to be true and to make it happen. There aren't any short cuts unfortunately.
When you do speaking engagements how do you stay relaxed with all the busy-ness?
When I go to do speaking engagements, I try to block myself off from everything until after I've talked. Before I go on stage I'm usually hiding out in my hotel room or in a back stage area somewhere hoping no one sees me. I just don't have the energy to talk to anyone or do anything until I have finished my talk. It's kind of weird, because I don't really get nervous at all anymore, but I just know I need to save up all my energy for that hour on stage. It's actually pretty exhausting- physically and mentally. After I give a talk, usually all I can think about doing is getting back to bed and watching movies on Netflix. Pretty exciting, right?
Sometimes families aren't the most supportive of youth with mental health issues. What would you like to say to those who are in that place?
It's tough to be in any situation where people aren't supportive of what you are going through, so first of all, know that I empathize with anyone dealing with a situation like that. But with that being said, like I alluded to earlier, you have to take control of your own health and well-being. So if your family members aren't being supportive, it might suck, but you have to look outside of that. Find a friend, a teacher, a counsellor. If you don't have access to that, use the Internet, find forums for mental health, call Kids Help Phone. With technology now, there are more resources and more available to us than ever before. We just have to be proactive about using what is at our disposal.
Who's your favourite music artist?
My favourite musical artist right now would have to be Drake. One, because he is Canadian, but two, because he is in that bracket of "hip hop artists" where a lot of the music can just be about bragging and money and cars, but he is comfortable enough to show vulnerability and emotion through his music. I think that is really commendable. A lot of media and fans criticize him for singing and rapping, but the guy is just too talented for words. He really transcends the idea of music having "genres" because he is rap, he is R&B, he is just an unbelievable talent and it's awesome to see someone like that come out of Canada. He really takes his art seriously and I respect that so much. He could just be rushing to get new albums done and throw out a new single every week and people would buy it. But instead, he takes his time and creates something that is so genius. Plus, he talks about loving his Mum on records and has all the same friends around him that he's had since he was young. That's pretty rare and incredible. So yeah, Drake is my guy.
What inspired you to share your story?
A lot of things and people inspired me to share my story. Perhaps the most pronounced moment I can remember though is watching Michael Landsberg from TSN take the stage at We Day in Vancouver and talk about his struggle with depression. He only had two minutes on stage and yet he gave one of the most powerful talks I've ever heard. It was incredible- especially for someone of his fame and success to say those things. Really powerful. But to be honest, I'm really inspired by anyone who accepts and embraces themselves. I think that is probably the best quality you could have in life. To know who you are and to just be that person. We really need more of that in our society. It has the ability to do amazing things.
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