Hobart and William Smith Colleges welcomed stand-up comic and noted mental health activist Kevin Breel as a guest of the Calvin R. Carver Sr. Lecture series. Recently featured as a presenter on the widely-popular TEDx Talks, Breel’s HWS lecture was held for a standing-room only crowd on Wednesday, April 22, in the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library.
Blending humor and honesty to create a dialogue about mental health, Breel’s lecture centered on experiences from his personal struggle with depression as an outlet for educating people about depression and how to overcome associated stigmas. At HWS, he addressed how people can re-educate themselves and help loved ones who may be dealing with mental health issues.
“Hobart and William Smith are pleased to welcome Kevin Breel to campus as guest of the Calvin R. Carver Sr. Lecture series,” says President Mark D. Gearan. “As an activist and comic, Kevin’s work allows everyone to enter into the critical dialogue around mental health. His thoughtful and personal reflections will be an important addition to the conversation at the Colleges.”
Breel’s appearance at HWS was made possible by the Calvin R. Carver Sr. Lecture and Student Support Endowment established in 2012 by Calvin “Chip” Carver ’81 and Anne DeLaney in honor of Carver’s father. Following his lecture, there was a reception with light refreshments, as well as the opportunity for attendees to meet with the 21-year-old speaker.
“Kevin is a college-aged student who himself has suffered from depression,” says event co-organizer Tempe Newson ’11, assistant to the associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. “As a young stand-up comic, he was able to deliver a sincere message about mental health stereotypes and advocacy in a hilarious and genuine way that we believe reached and engaged our students.”
Originally from British Columbia, Canada, Breel was a star basketball player and an honor roll student in high school. No one knew he was battling depression and considered taking his own life.
“For a long time in my life, I felt like I’d been living two different lives,” Breel explained. “There’s the life that everyone sees, and then there’s the life that only I see.”
Due to the “very real stigma” around depression, Breel was afraid to tell anyone what he was going through. Eventually, he sought help to fight his depression and has since toured across North America to speak at more than 100 college campuses about his experiences. He also is a national spokesperson for the Bell Let’s Talk Campaign, a Canadian initiative that encourages people to talk about mental health issues.
“It can be really hard and exhausting to keep sharing my story onstage, but ultimately, I know it has the potential to help people,” Breel says.
Breel was selected by the Carver family to be this year’s speaker for the Calvin R. Carver Sr. Lecture Series. The Carver endowment supports bringing to campus each year one speaker who addresses a topic intended to promote inclusiveness, resiliency, positive mental health and social justice. The fund also assists students who may be experiencing mental or physical health difficulties stemming from developmental, personal or family circumstances. Gay rights advocate Judy Shepard served as the inaugural lecturer in spring 2013.
“We hope that Kevin’s talk helped reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health and inspired students to be mental health advocates on campus,” Newson says. “By hearing his story, we hope that students will not only better understand depression but also be encouraged to speak up and reach out if they see someone who needs help.”
For more information about Kevin Breel, visit his website. His lecture, “Confessions of a Depressed Comic,” is available on TEDx.