21-year-old comedian and mental health activist Kevin Breel stood in front of a packed Robsham Theater last night, coming to Boston College as a part of the University’s Be Conscious initiative.
“The only way to be vulnerable is to admit you’re imperfect,” he said.
The Wednesday event was sponsored by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) in conjunction with BC’s To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) chapter. Since its development this past summer, Be Conscious has been working throughout the school year to connect students to resources on campus, increase dialogue surrounding mental health and mental illness, and develop a more supportive community on campus for those struggling with related issues.
Cassidy Gallegos, UGBC Senator and LSOE ’16, founded the University chapter of TWLOHA last January, hoping to bring the national group’s goal of breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness to BC. With the Be Conscious program, UGBC and TWLOHA are working to normalize conversations around these subjects. Breel is the first major speaker on mental health to come to campus for the project.
Since his TED talk, “Confessions of a Depressed Comic,” instantly went viral two years ago, with over a half of a million views in less than 30 days, the Canadian comedian has traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada to share the story of his battle with depression and advocate for the education, destigmatization, and awareness of mental health and mental illness on high school and college campuses.
“I was just sitting there and there was this crushing feeling that came over me that I’m not living a life, I’m just living a lie,” Breel said, giving the group a glance at the night of Feb. 26, 2011, when he came close to taking his life.
The anecdotes and insights Breel presented about his journey in his TED talk gave Gallegos and other TWLOHA members the inspiration to bring the comedian to BC.
“There’s no reason for anyone to struggle alone,” Gallegos said. “Mental health is something that everybody has and it affects every part of our lives, so if we can’t talk about it, we can’t address it.”
After watching the TED talk and seeing posts about Breel by the founder of TWLOHA Jamie Tworkowski, Gallegos felt compelled to bring the speaker on campus. Early last year, Gallegos met Breel at one of his speeches in Acton, Mass. After she got in contact with his agent, Gallegos worked with TWLOHA and UGBC to put her plan into action.
“[The clubs] were all for it,” Gallegos said. “He is so relatable and very, very good at presenting the message and keeping a positive and hopeful attitude about it. Everybody was pretty on board with that.”
In his presentation, Breel cited statistics that 12 to 14 teenagers a day die by suicide in North America and one million people every year, on average, take their own life. With the growing epidemic of suicide as a result of depression or other mental illness in the U.S. among college-age students, the push to understand and know how to respond to mental health issues has been heightened, according to Gallegos.
“So, for me, there is a lack of understanding at BC,” Gallegos said. “I think it’s not to say BC students are wrong or approaching it incorrectly, it’s just that it’s an unknown reality, you know? Absolutely a microcosm of the real world.”
Gallegos explained that she, along with the clubs, would like to spread the distinction between mental health and mental illness, as well as a larger education on the appropriate language to use surrounding the subjects.
“I think the stigma surrounds mental health, mental illness, specifically, is not just here at BC,” she said. “It’s nationwide, international, and I just want to put out the message that it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s not a character flaw to admit that you’re struggling with a mental health issue.”
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Staff