EDUCATION

Broadway actor says nothing is I’Mpossible when it comes to fighting depression and suicide

Josh Rivedal visited Ole Miss Wednesday. Photo by: Mallori Baker

Mallori Baker
Oxford Stories
mjbaker1@go.olemiss.edu

If you are experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts, a Broadway playwright and actor wants you to know nothing is I’Mpossible.

The University of Mississippi recently hosted New York City actor Josh Rivedal, who spoke to students about suicide awareness and his I’Mpossible project.

Rivedal lost his father to suicide when he was a teenager. Growing up, he described his life as living in a “cult-like atmosphere.” He attended a conservative Christian school, and those around him did not support his dream of becoming an actor. Rivedal said he “thought about running away numerous times just to get away from it all.”

Despite discouragement, he moved to New York City when he was 19 to pursue an acting career. He played many roles in various shows throughout New York.

A few years later, his mother called to tell him his father had committed suicide, and he needed to return home immediately. Rivedal said he felt nothing but anger and sadness and constantly told himself, “This stops here. It’s done. I am never going to kill myself.”

Rivedal’s grandfather had also committed suicide, and although the illness, he said, was “in his genes,” he vowed to never do the same. His UM presentation began as a 45 minute theatre performance created after his father’s death. It described his life in short scenes filled with emotion, song, and bits of humor.

When he first performed the piece in New York, Rivedal said he knew it was going to “be something.” What started out as theatre became a program that has enabled him to tour the country educating others.

“I knew it could be something because of the way people were talking about it,” he said. “The way people were talking about suicide, they were talking about rumors and misconceptions. I knew that people are still burying their heads in the sand about suicide and prevention. They aren’t talking about it. Everyone needs to talk about it. It affects everyone.”

Rivedal said he is not a big “stats guy.” However, he does think it’s important that people know exactly what is going on. According to a 2017 Center for Disease Control report, 27,000 people die of suicide annually. Rivedal emphasized suicide is preventable, and you are not a slave to your brain.

He said it’s important for everyone to know they are not alone. Having suicidal thoughts does not make you wrong. It does not make you crazy. It makes you human.

Rivedal said the worst thing we can do is “help other people put on a mask. You are a human being. Just because you are having these feelings does not mean you are not okay, sinful or wrong,”

After his dad passed, Rivedal couldn’t help but feel survivor’s guilt. He felt like if he had said or done something differently, his father would not have commited suicide. He wanted to be clear that is not necessarily the case.

Rivedal had no previous knowledge of suicide. He had no idea why it happened, or what to look for. He was not educated about the topic. Today, he is aware many people are also not educated about suicide, and he believes it is his job to fix that.

In the final minutes of Rivedal’s performance, he ended with a few main points. He said suicide is an illness. “It is not mental health,” he said. “It is mental and physical health. It’s all health.”

Having suicidal thoughts is not something to be ashamed about. You should never be afraid to ask for help. “Speak up, speak out, and speak often,” he said. “Tell your story.”

Suicide stems from feeling hopelessness. “People do not want to die,” he said. “No one wants to die. They just don’t want to feel the feeling they are feeling.”

Someone who is going through these feelings will feel shame and a negative stigma. If they do not know their resources, they will feel alone.

Rivedal said it’s important to let others know about resources. This includes the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255), counseling centers, and even yourself.

If someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, get them help and listen to them. Active listening is very important. “I do not know anyone that is crazy,” Rivedal said. “I know people that need help.”

Rivedal closed saying he lives with chronic depression. However, he sees it as his superpower, and it allows him to have “meaningful conversations with people all over the country, and help change and, hopefully, save lives.”

Fellow student Sydney Brock attended the I’Mpossible presentation because she “feels not many people know enough about mental health, more specifically suicide.”

She said she knows she cannot change anyone, but wanted to get more information about how she could possibly help someone in the future.

“In school, I did not get very many lessons on mental health, and I know others may not have either,” she said. “His story is very touching, and I think everyone should hear it.”

To learn more about Rivedal’s life or mental health, he has a book called: The I’Mpossible Project: Changing Minds, Breaking Stigma, Achieving the Impossible, on shelves now.

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