Sitting in his hotel room off Rockefeller Plaza on Monday, getting ready to meet some New York publishers about a book deal, Lambrick Park grad Kevin Breel couldn’t help but reflect on the changes in the past year.
“Last Oct. 1, I was in a Planning 10 classroom talking to 30 people,” he said.
This morning, by contrast, the 19-year-old will record a segment for NBC’s Today Show, taking his mental health message to an audience pushing five million.
It’s all due to a TEDx talk the Victoria teen gave in West Vancouver, one that has been viewed online something like 1.4 million times since it was recorded in May.
Or, rather, it’s due to Breel’s own candor in speaking — honestly, articulately and with good humour — about his own clinical depression.
You might recall his story from a column in June: A popular kid from Cadboro Bay, fun to be around, always on the honour roll, leader of the Lambrick Park basketball team when it was ranked No. 1 in the province, Breel went on to try his hand as a writer and stand-up comic.
He also became known, at 18, for speaking to school and youth groups about what had been his deepest, darkest secret: the depression he has carried around since age 13, when his best friend died in a car crash.
“Depression isn’t chicken pox. You don’t beat it once and it’s gone for ever,” he said in that TEDx talk. “It’s something you live with. ... It’s the roommate you can't kick out.”
You can see the 15-minute video by YouTubing “Confessions of a Depressed Comic.”
Shedding the burden of secrecy, stepping away from the isolation, has been liberating for Breel. It has also been good for people in similar circumstances to get the message from someone just like them.
Breel knows that’s his appeal, knows that’s why NBC wants him to appear on camera with Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and writer who regularly speaks about mental health on the Today Show. It’s one thing to hear from a professional who treats the disease, another to listen to a young person who lives it and who can discuss it openly while still coming across as a funny, likable guy. “It helps take the edge off a serious subject,” he said Monday.
Similarly, Breel knows it’s his insider’s view that has brought multiple offers of interest from publishers. There’s a large group of readers who might be more receptive to a book authored by someone to whom they can relate. “It comes from a younger voice, a younger perspective.”
Breel will spend part of this fall on a speaking tour — everywhere from Penn State University to a suicide-prevention event in New York City to a gala fundraiser in Connecticut — but hopes to devote next year to writing that book.
First will come the Today Show this morning. Breel thinks Matt Lauer might host the segment, which will air some time next week. Imagine that. A year ago, he couldn’t see this coming.
“I never thought that the message would get this kind of platform,” he says.
Note that he refers to the message — as opposed to himself — getting the exposure. He is serious about his cause, about reaching into the dark and pulling people into the light.
Last week, Breel was nearby when a distraught woman appeared ready to jump from a downtown Victoria building. Eventually, she backed away.
It was in that last decision that Breel found hope. “Today, I am once again reminded that the human spirit is a powerful thing and that life is worth living,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “To the young lady from today, thank you for choosing life over death. … You have no idea how many others you’ve inspired to do the same. And you have no idea just how much better it is going to get for you. I promise.”
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