More than 10 years after his near suicide attempt, a speaker shared his experiences with a student audience in order to inspire mutual growth Wednesday night.
Joshua Rivedal is an actor, writer, author and founder of the organization “i’Mpossible," a project devoted to offering resources, plays, books, workshops and seminars on the topics of suicide prevention and inclusion. Rivedal tours the country speaking to audiences about his experience with mental health issues, and how those audiences can improve the mental health of themselves and others. His projects focus on vulnerability and storytelling, with an emphasis on healing and growth.
Rivedal built his speeches and project around his own experiences, including the experiences of others and how they shaped him.
“I started telling my story because it’s intertwined with my dad’s story," Rivedal said in an interview prior to his talk in Fowler Hall. "His dad died by suicide, but he never spoke of it. Initially, part of me telling the story of his passing was sort of a rebellious thing in my head. … ‘He didn’t do it so I’m gonna do the opposite.”
Rivedal said people began to take notice of his speaking prowess and his outlook.
“It was kinda a happy accident," he said. "I just started becoming in demand in the work I do and in the unique nature of how it goes down. I reinforced that by actually trying and building a business around it.”
Rivedal’s desire to share his experiences came from an understanding of how they had affected him, as well as a desire to not let them affect others.
“I still see a lot of gaps that I can fill or help people fill," Rivedal said, "in terms of services or education.”
Rivedal discovered how his work could affect him and others after an experience with an audience member who approached him after a prior show
“The first time I did this program in academia ... someone came up and said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna get help because of what you did and what you said.’... That was nearly 3 months after I nearly attempted suicide, so I was like ‘I think I can stay here, I think I can be alive.”
Rivedal spoke of not only the external factors, but also the internal reasons that lead to his consideration of committing suicide. Both his father and his grandfather committed suicide, which Rivedal said suggested a genetic link that left him predispositioned for the same issues. Rivedal speaks of his and his father’s story in his one-man show, “Kicking My Blue Genes in the Butt”.
“Kicking My Blue Genes in the Butt” was intended as a creative outlet after the death of Rivedal’s father. Rivedal attended a “one-person short writing class” while developing his play. The class was actually his second choice, his first choice being a play-writing class. He “fell in love with the art form there,” though. His relationship to stand-up comedians in the same course also helped shape the tone of the show.
Originally titled “The Gospel According to Josh," he later re-titled the show in order to avoid confusion about the subject matter. Rivedal would later use the original title for his memoir, which still resides on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s recommended reading list.
Along with his focus on mental health, Rivedal also concentrates on diversity and inclusion to address mental health resources for various different groups.
“I like to talk about diverse experiences, because (when I do) It’s no longer me and them, it’s me and us,” he said.
In his shows Rivedal discusses experiences relevant to the LGBTQ community, as well as issues of race, socioeconomic status and ethno-religious identity.
“What I generally share, because those are not my experiences," he said, "but what I generally share and introduce (are) those concepts saying, ‘This is what I hear,' this is why 'XYZ' community may not be reaching out for help. So if you feel uncomfortable talking to someone who doesn't speak your first language … there’s people out there who want to do that.”
Rivedal credits his successful show to its basis in humor, as well as his honesty and vulnerability.
“If I was in finance," Rivedal said, "the job of the speaker is to be like ‘Look at me, I’m so great.' What I do in mental health and suicide prevention as a speaker is say, 'Look at me, I’ve got problems.'
He also credits the show’s use of science and fact as lend him credibility as a speaker.
Rivedal's next project is a concept he refers to as the “Mental Nutrition Pyramid," a play on the term “mental health” and visually based on the USDA food pyramid.
“That sort of crosses into public health, the public health side of things and paying attention to the social determinants of health," he said.
He breaks down mental health and wellness into six categories: “The things that we need to do for a healthy brain; that's food, that's what you consume, that's relaxation, that's self care.”
Purdue Student Government vice president Assata Gilmore believes that talking about mental health isn't just important for the individual, but for the community.
"Mr. Rivedal's speech was incredibly important," she said via email. "It highlighted a key aspect of the week, which is to end the stigma surrounding mental health by cultivating a community around those conversations.
"Everyone has mental health and it is critical to take care of it, just as you would your bodily and physical health."
As for Rivedal’s advice for student mental health, “Work on your mental nutrition," he said. "The nourishment of your brain and your life. Be intentional about it and don’t wait to do things until you need them.
"The more that you take care of yourself, the better off you’ll be, and the better off the rest of us will be as well.”