I went to see Brian Copeland's one-man show "The Waiting Period" at the Marsh in San Francisco (http://www.themarsh.org). The comedian, TV and radio host is well known for his long-running solo act "Not a Genuine Black Man" -- his sidesplitting take on growing up African-American in notoriously racist 1970s era San Leandro.
"The Waiting Period" is about a dark period in Copeland's life when he decided to buy a gun to kill himself.
The day after I saw the show, movie director Tony Scott (Top Gun) leapt off a bridge in San Pedro to his death. It was another graphic example of the too-often fatal consequences of severe depression. And in Copeland's view, the double-standard in the way society views mental illness as opposed to "real" diseases.
Copeland uses drama interwoven with comedy to raise awareness of depression. His hope is that he can help reach people contemplating suicide so they can get the treatment they need before it's too late.
Mental health advocates have been booking performances for fundraisers, including Bring Change 2 Mind foundation cofounded by actress Glenn Close whose sister and nephew suffer from mental illness. Eventually, Copeland wants to take the show around the country to do benefits for local suicide prevention groups.
It has just been extended through Sept. 29 at the Marsh. It is a powerful performance that will make you laugh and cry.
I sat down with Copeland at his San Leandro home to talk about "The Waiting Period" and his own personal battles with depression. (To hear audio excerpts, visit http://www.insidebayarea.com/tammerlin-drummond)
Q: What is the significance of the title?
A: It's about a really bad bout I went through in 2008 where I was ready to check out. I had made arrangements to get a pistol. California has a 10-day waiting period. This story takes place over that 10 days.
Q: What made you decide to kill yourself?
A: My grandmother passed away, my grandmother raised me. Wife took off never gave me a reason. I totaled my car ... was laid up in a neck brace for three months on the couch with Vicodin. Three months of just laying there and spinning my wheels.
Q: When did you first learn that you suffered from serious depression and what were the symptoms?
A: 1999 is when I was diagnosed and given medication. In hindsight, I have suffered from it my whole life. I've had bouts but just as I got older they got deeper. I'd have crying fits for no reason. No pleasure in anything, not wanting to get out of bed. I isolate like crazy. Abandonment and loss are my triggers.
Q: Was there a specific incident that made you seek treatment?
A: I went into the garage in my Miata, let the top down and started the motor. I got 5150'd. After that it was kind of like, "it's time to do something about this."
Q: What discourages people with depression from seeking treatment?
A: The stigma is the big thing because people look at you differently. Denial. You don't want to be one of "those people."
Q: What did you think when you heard about Tony Scott?
A: At first people were saying, "What would make him do something like that?" Then it circulated that he had inoperable brain cancer. People were like, "Oh, that makes sense, he was dying." But after his family released a statement saying that wasn't true, it was back to the first story. If the cause was cancer we are more accepting of him doing what he did. Both are diseases. Why is one an acceptable reason but depression is not?
Q: You said "The Waiting Period" is also inspired by Colton Fink, a 15-year-old boy who died in January 2011 when he laid down in front of a train in Oakley. You knew his family?
A: Yes. I still had the apprehension about (how) much do I want to tell people. Then when I heard about Colton. ... I thought, OK I have to do this now. Because if I can get up here and spill my guts and tell people this then maybe some other 15-year-old kid or some 40-year-old man who is at that place and hurting will think if he can tell somebody I can tell somebody and get help.
Q: What kind of reaction have you gotten?
A: One woman who wrote ... has been married for 15 years. Her husband doesn't want to hear about it. They came to the show ... as they were driving home he said, "Is that what you go through?" I get chills thinking about that. But that is what this is all about. So now she's got some support at home instead of feeling like she has to be ashamed in front of her own husband.
What: The Waiting Period
When: Show runs through Sept. 29
Where: The Marsh, 1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Warning signs of depression
Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
Fatigue and decreased energy
Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
Overeating, or appetite loss
Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
Source: National Institute of Mental Health
East Bay Suicide hotline numbers
Alameda County: 1-800-309-2131
Contra Costa County: 1-800-833-2900
Santa Clara County: 1-855-278-4204
San Mateo County: 1-650-368-6655