Friday, March 21, 2014 Sean and Katie Haines stood on stage at the Forest Lake High School and Sean said into the microphone while looking into the audience, “Without your support we couldn’t do things like this.”
Then the auditorium full of children, students, parents, teachers, school faculty and community members welcomed 19-year-old Kevin Breel.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Kevin or have seen his Youtube videos. Perhaps you have not. For those of you unfamiliar with this Canadian’s story, take ten minutes to watch: http://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_breel_confessions_of_a_depressed_comic Your children, the kids in your community, the man next to you in line at the post office, the woman you work with, your brother, sister, parents and friends – they may be more like Kevin than you know. The mountains they are climbing on a daily basis may be bigger than you think.
What Kevin Breel does, which I love, is talk about topics that people tend not to talk about: depression, mental illness, suicide. From center stage he said, “These are issues that are personal to me, and my life, and my family.”
These are issues personal to Sean and Katie Haines, too. December 29, 2011 they lost their 15-year-old daughter Alissa to suicide (http://forestlaketimes.com/2012/08/08/wyoming-family-helping-others-avoid-their-pain/).
Kevin Breel as a teenager experienced depression firsthand. “Fog”, the inability to be present, the feeling of not being happy – he’s been there. And you may think that talking about it is not that big of deal. That it’s not that difficult. But the reality is that when it’s you and you are the one having to talk about it, it may in fact be that difficult.
While there were many laughs Friday night while Kevin Breel joked with a 9-year-old in the audience and dealt with the issues of a touchy microphone, the importance of the reality of how hearing what others are talking about and saying can have a big impact on what a person is willing to share was very clear. “I saw how my community talked about these things,” Kevin said. And when he saw that, he kept people on the outside.
“I got very good at kind of living these two different lives,” he explained. Kevin, the guy who in high school excelled in sports and theater. Kevin, the guy who was so funny.
To escape what he was really feeling Kevin used to get high.
February 26, 2011 after a high school basketball championship game, Kevin rode the bus home to an empty house where he sat down and wrote a suicide note. He thought that would be the last night he was alive.
Thankfully, Kevin Breel is very alive today. That alone is part of what makes him so inspirational.
“I decided I couldn’t quit on myself until I tried to help myself,” he said to the audience.
February 27, 2011, Kevin Breel started helping himself. He talked about what he was feeling with friends, family, coaches and a counselor. He spent a year talking to a counselor.
“What made you talk to those people?” a woman from the audience asked.
Kevin said, “I felt safe with them because they had been vulnerable and safe with me.”
He encouraged people in the audience to be vulnerable and imperfect, and to lead by example; to lead by action. He encouraged his audience to have empathy; to teach empathy and acceptance. What are we teaching our kids? Are we teaching them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes? We certainly should be.
I am a mother. I was not in the auditorium hoping to become a better mother. But, I think I did. When Kevin Breel stood on stage saying he felt his mother was honest and non-judgmental, I found myself wanting that more than anything for my children; wanting my children to find in me a mother who is always honest and non-judgmental. Always. Without a doubt. And really, that’s what I want anyone to find in me: someone who is always honest and always non-judgmental. I want family, friends and strangers to feel comfortable sharing with me what they may be feeling or experiencing.
I left the Forest Lake High School knowing I would put an even greater effort into being honest and non-judgmental. I left thankful for February 27, 2011 when Kevin Breel was brave enough to talk to people he trusts about the reality of his world. I left thankful for people like Sean and Katie Haines who put a spotlight on subjects others may not know how to talk about, and an effort into making sure everyone has someone they can talk to. Kevin, Sean, Katie – they are all very inspiring. If you have the opportunity, go listen to Kevin Breel speak. And if you haven’t already, support Stomp Out Suicide, Sean and Katie Haines’ organization: http://www.stompoutsuicide.com/ They are making a difference in the lives of others. You can, too.