Comedian and mental health activist Kevin Breel returned to Boston College to deliver another talk about his struggle with mental illness this Tuesday night.
Breel began his appearance with a series of jokes, greeted with laughter from the students gathered in Robsham Theater. The theater went quiet, though, when Kevin began to segue into his battle with depression, confessing, “I got to a point in my life where I was seventeen years old and I was so afraid of what people would say if they were to know that I was struggling that, as a seventeen-year-old kid, I sat in my room, on the edge of my bed, and I wrote a suicide note.”
Megan Flynn, MCAS ’17, is the Director of Mental Health Programming in Student Initiatives and worked to bring Kevin back to campus after he appeared last February. She explained how Breel combined humor with his serious talk about mental health to make people comfortable with discussing a topic often regarded as taboo.
“We throw around the word ‘stigma’ a lot, but it’s really true that it can be so hard to speak up about our mental health and mental illness, especially at a school where we’re wrapped in always trying to do more and be more,” says Flynn. “Kevin encourages us to be honest and vulnerable and to own our story, and by making us laugh at the same time, this hopefully won’t seem as scary anymore.”
The idea of owning your story is one reiterated by Breel throughout his presentation: “It’s about owning your story so that your story doesn’t end up owning you.”
An instrumental part of encouraging students at BC to own their stories is UGBC’s Be Conscious campaign, which was organized last year by Cassidy Gallegos, LSOE ’16. The movement focused on increasing awareness and decreasing the discomfort surrounding discussions of mental health, and was part of Gallegos' ongoing fight to help those at BC who struggle with mental illness.
Gallegos befriended Breel after first hearing of him when the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms (of which Gallegos established the BC chapter) shared his viral TED Talk (“Confessions of a Depressed Comic”) and meeting him when the comedian came to speak at several Boston high schools. “I was really inspired that someone my age was making such important strides in bringing to the surface conversations that society, as a whole, doesn’t like or know how to engage in,” says Gallegos. She then invited him to speak at BC last February.
“The ultimate goal, however, isn’t just about Kevin,” she explains. “It’s about bringing everyone’s awareness to the fact that mental health infiltrates every aspect of our lives, and that it is a topic worthy and deserving of our attention.”
Since Breel’s last visit, BC C.H.A.T.S. was founded as a safe space for peer-to-peer conversations about shared experiences with issues of mental health, and the Be Conscious campaign completed its first year in action.
Flynn admits that it’s difficult for her to gauge campus awareness of mental health as her position revolves around her constantly talking about this issue, but says she has noticed some changes. “I definitely see a conversation happening on the national stage that has trickled down to our campus,” she says. “I, personally, have felt increasingly comfortable sharing my own story with others and I hope that going forward, more people do as well. The more we get people talking, the more we can make real changes on campus and beyond.”
To get people talking, UGBC has plans to explore stereotypes of the LGBTQ community and how they can affect the mental health of its members, as well as the insecurities and body image issues that can result in eating disorders. This coming Monday, a BC Ignites event is being held to discuss alcohol, which is often used as an attempt to forget about various anxieties or insecurities but often has the effect of amplifying them.
BC’s University Counseling Services (UCS) has seen a 25% increase in the number of students requesting appointments in the past three years, resulting in students being unable to be seen as frequently or in the manner that they would like. UGBC will be distributing a guide listing the offices, programs and support groups students can turn to for questions or care in regards to mental health and has long-term plans to develop a Mental Health Awareness Program. Much like the Bystander Intervention Program, this will take the form of a presentation given to students on campus about how to recognize signs of mental illness, as well as how to speak about and handle mental health.
“We need this conversation about mental health to continue,” Gallegan says. “We need well-known organizations and leaders on this campus to take a stand and say, ‘I’m willing to talk about this. I’m willing to promote the message that it’s okay to not be okay, and I want to work towards a campus where we accept our imperfections and talk about our differences in a healthy, healing way.”
To share experiences or make suggestions about any changes you would like to see on campus, visit http://campusvoice.ugbc.org/, where you can also see a list of upcoming UGBC events and programs.
Kevin Breel’s book, Boy Meets Depression: Or Life Sucks and Then You Live, is available in stores now.