When Kevin Breel reached out to TWLOHA and shared a video of a talk he gave at a recent TED event, we were taken aback. Not just because Kevin is only 19 years old. Not just because he’s clearly a gifted writer and communicator (and a comedian, as well). No, we were most impressed because Kevin brought a stunning and refreshing honesty to the issue of depression. He brought new and life-giving language to topics we discuss every day.
In the span of 11 minutes, Kevin’s TED talk introduces his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, discusses the often overlooked reality of mental health stigma, and offers hope for a world where “embracing your light doesn’t mean ignoring your dark.” It’s one of the most compelling and encouraging talks we’ve heard about depression, and we are honored to be able to share it with you today. Please, please watch the video above, and you can also read an excerpt from Kevin’s speech below.
… My story is this, in four simple words: I suffer from depression. I suffer from depression. And for a long time, I think, I was living two totally different lives, where one person was always afraid of the other. I was afraid that people would see me for who I really was. That I wasn’t the perfect, popular kid in high school who everyone thought I was. That beneath my smile there was struggle, and beneath my light there was dark, and beneath my big personality just hid even bigger pain.
See, some people might fear girls not liking them back. Some people might fear sharks. Some people might fear death. But for me, for a large part of my life, I feared myself. I feared my truth, I feared my honesty, I feared my vulnerability. And that fear made me feel like I was forced into a corner, and there was only one way out.
And so I thought about that way every single day. I thought about it every single day. And if I’m being totally honest standing here, I’ve thought about it again since because that’s the sickness, that’s the struggle. That’s depression, and depression isn’t chicken pox; you don’t beat it once and it’s gone forever. It’s something you live with. It’s something you live in. It’s the roommate you can’t kick out, it’s the voice you can’t ignore, it’s the feelings you can’t seem to escape, and the scariest part is that after a while, you become numb to it. It becomes normal for you.
And what you really fear the most isn’t the suffering inside of you, it’s the stigma inside of others. It’s the shame, it’s the embarrassment, it’s the disapproving look on a friend’s face, it’s the whispers in the hallway that you’re weak, it’s the comments that you’re crazy. That’s what keeps you from getting help.
That’s what makes you hold it in and hide it. It’s the stigma. So you hold it in and you hide it. And you hold it in and you hide it. And even though it’s keeping you in bed every day and it’s making your life feel empty, no matter how much you try and fill it, you hide it—because the stigma in our society around depression is very real, it’s very real. And if you think that it isn’t, ask yourself this: would you rather make your next Facebook status say you’re having a tough time getting out of bed because you hurt your back, or are you having a tough time getting out of bed every morning because you’re depressed?
That’s the stigma, because, unfortunately, we live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you’re depressed, everyone runs the other way. That’s the stigma. We are so, so, so accepting of any body part breaking down, other than our brains. And that’s ignorance. That’s pure ignorance. And that ignorance has created a world that doesn’t understand depression, that doesn’t understand mental health. And that’s ironic to me because depression is one of the best-documented problems we have in the world, yet it’s one of the least discussed.
We just push it aside, and put it in a corner, and pretend it’s not there, and hope it’ll fix itself. Well, it won’t. It hasn’t, and it’s not going to, because that’s wishful thinking. And wishful thinking isn’t a game plan; it’s procrastination, and we can’t procrastinate on something this important.
The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one, but we haven’t done that. So we can’t really expect to find an answer when we’re still afraid of the question. And I don’t know what the solution is—I wish I did, but I don’t—but I think it has to start here. It has to start with me, it has to start with you, it has to start with the people who are suffering—the ones who are hidden in the shadows. We need to speak up and shatter the silence. We need to be the ones who are brave for what we believe in. …