LIVING

'Sex And Suicide Podcast' Destroys Mental Illness Stigma In Raw, Uncensored Way

Nothing is off limits.

10/08/2017 16:38 EDT | Updated 10/13/2017 16:21 EDT
Sex And Suicide Podcast / Facebook
'The Sex And Suicide Podcast' being broadcast Facebook Live with creator and co-host Shawn Evans (C) in between co-hosts Scott Milne (L) and Paulie O'Byrne (R).

We have a long way to go before the stigma of talking about mental health is completely gone, especially for men.

But for the three hosts of "The Sex And Suicide Podcast," nothing is off limits. This includes talking about their depression, anxiety and even being sexually abused.

The men, based in London, Ont., have created a raw and profanity-laced podcast to encourage others to be just as brutally blunt and honest about their own mental health struggles.

Their flagship series, Soulfire Sundays, features hosts Shawn Evans, Scott Milne, and Paulie O'Byrne sitting on a couch cracking jokes while opening up about their personal experiences. One episode centred on Evans' anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, while another was about O'Byrne's cognitive behavioural therapy treatment.

Evans, who created the podcast, said their unorthodox style resonates with their growing base of 20,000 fans on Facebook and YouTube.

"I think people typically only get this type of information thrown at them in a lecture setting or by someone with clinical training," Evans told HuffPost Canada in an interview. "But we're just three guys that have been through it."

It used to only be that if you're a man you need to 'tough it out' or 'we don't talk about our feelings or our emotions.'Shawn Evans, "The Sex And Suicide Podcast" creator​​​

"It's so needed. So many guys have that stigma that they shouldn't be emotional," Milne said. "But society has built us up to have these egos where we don't ask for help or know how to."

Milne, who is a professional bodybuilder, pointed out that mental illness doesn't care about how much someone can bench press. The hosts' mantra is: if it's OK for them to talk about it, anyone can.

"I don't have a problem talking about it. Half the time I don't even realize the camera (and mic are) on," Milne laughs.

Evans adds, "It makes people feel like they're not alone. It used to only be that if you're a man you needed to 'tough it out' or 'we don't talk about our feelings or our emotions.'

"Everybody needs to live more open, honest and transparent lives and share their stories."

Earlier on HuffPost: Only one in five Canadian youth who need mental health services get them

O'Byrne is extremely candid about being sexually abused by his hockey coach over 11 years ago. His abuser was convicted of sexual assault and served three months house arrest and 18 months probation.

"It was the hardest blow to me emotionally and mentally," O'Byrne said. The day of the sentencing was the first time he ever attempted to take his own life.

So when the group talks about sex on the podcast, he said it can be hard to dredge it all up. But O'Byrne refuses to ignore his past.

"I've been to too many funerals because of stigma," he said. "It breaks my heart when I have to go to a funeral because someone ended their life to suicide."

In addition to speaking about mental illness on college campuses, O'Byrne is the founder of the not-for-profit group, I'm One-In-Five. It's named after the statistic that one in five Canadians is affected by addiction, mental illness, trauma, and victimization.

Paulie O'Byrne / I'm One In Five
Paulie O'Bryne is a public speaker and co-host of "The Sex And Suicide Podcast."

Evans asked O'Byrne to join the podcast this May after seeing him speak. O'Byrne was drawn to the podcast's simplicity and rawness.

"It's just three guys on a couch. We could be your three brothers or three uncles having a candid conversation," O'Byrne said. "If we're talking about solutions, we're not talking about problems anymore."

Mental illnesses like his social anxiety and depression are lifelong challenges and O'Byrne says that's OK.

"I'm in a safe, comfortable place to talk about where these people are not going to judge me about what I've been through — that's what gives me peace of mind," he noted.

"We get through it (struggles) together."

A big factor in starting the podcast came when Evans was forced to confront society's perception of him — on reality TV.

Haha you break it you buy it! Great night 😊 @kaitlynbristowe @brittkarolina #TheBachelorette #BachelorFamily

A post shared by Shawn Matthew Evans (@realshawnevans) on

Evans was a contestant on the 11th season of ABC's "The Bachelorette." On the show, he was a partier, who indulged in drinking.

Off-camera he said he was prone to self-medicating and drinking even more when he felt tense.

Now approaching two years sobriety, Evans says the experience altered his life because "it made me look at how people saw me and change my ways, and for that I'm appreciative."

Lost roommate to suicide

But his mission to normalize talking about mental health really developed after his roommate, who struggled with addiction, took his own life on Christmas Eve. He died only a month after he had made a pact with Evans to stay sober.

"I have maintained that promise to my best friend to stay sober, because it somehow makes me feel closer to him and keeps him alive in my heart," Evans says.

"Had I been more comfortable talking openly about mental health, suicide in particular, with my best friend, maybe I could have better helped him and potentially saved him."

Evans began devoting himself to sexology education, facing his anxiety and volunteering at mental health facilities in his hometown of London, Ont. to better understand mental illness firsthand.

Had I been more comfortable talking openly about mental health .. maybe I could have better helped him and potentially saved him.Shawn Evans, "The Sex And Suicide Podcast" creator

He also toured college campuses talking about mental health and sexual consent with Spencer Rice from the TV show, "Spenny Vs. Kenny."

"It was at a time when Donald Trump [didn't seem] to know what consent was," Evans said, referring to the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, where the now-president of the United States bragged about sexual assault.

Previously On HuffPost:

"At the end of the college tour, there were so many questions from the students coming up and asking me," said Evans, now a certified sex coach. "I thought, 'I have to develop something where they can reach out or we could post information on a regular basis.'"

The podcast has expanded to other series like Mental Health And Motivational Mondays, where it invites people to share their success stories to help inspire the audience.

Listeners have heard the story of Lee Thibeault, who adapted to living in a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident. They've also met social media personalities like Dan Shaba who created "The Pun Guys," who simply post funny videos involving puns.

Their other series, Woman Crush Wednesday, focuses on female empowerment and dispelling notions of toxic masculinity. They've featured a woman talking about cutting herself and another's struggle with cancer and a miscarriage.

The more we share this stuff.. it makes people feel like they're not alone.Shawn Evans, "The Sex And Suicide Podcast" creator

O'Bryne says there are too few public resources devoted to talking about mental health. Having a handful of days like Bell's Let's Talk Day or Mental Health Day on Oct. 10 are good but not enough.

"Why don't we talk about it every day? It's one of the biggest epidemics on the planet right now — suicide, addiction and mental health."

Evans says he wants to meet more of the people who are reaching out to them on their videos.

"Or maybe have people share their own stories and talking it out with them."

"Everyone has a story to be heard. No one's is more important than the next person's," he states. "The more we share this stuff and talk about it and show that it's OK to be spoken about — it makes people feel like they're not alone."

Also On HuffPost: