We had the distinct pleasure of hearing about Sam Webb and his business partner and friend Casey Lyons from The National Council for Behavioral Health. They were one of the big hits at the 2016 annual national council conference sharing their inspiring journey around the creation of their non-profit LIVIN, a suicide prevention and mental health awareness organization. Sam joins us on Mental Health News Radio to discuss the inspiration for LIVIN and their global initiative.
Why did you start LIVIN?
LIVIN was co-founded by myself and Casey Lyons in honor of our good friend Dwayne Lally who committed suicide on September 15th 2013 after suffering from a mental illness (watch video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b37664dj6xg ). LIVIN’S mission is to smash the stigma that is associated with mental illness through innovation and education. The mantra in which the organization has been built that has gone global is ‘it ain’t weak to speak’. This intonation is used to empower people from all walks of life to have that discussion if you’re not coping and to speak with someone, anyone. As long as you are speaking, you are never alone. We run a variety of fitness events throughout Australia concentrating on our specialty 24hr events. These involve teams of some sort and depending on the event it will be challenging. We also manufacture and design a casual apparel line for kids right through to men and women that dons the mantra and logo. This is now being sold online internationally which is exciting. We look at this as a cool and strategic way to place our products and the ever so important message in the face of people so they cannot evade it. One of our major focus areas is the education programs, where I have developed the “LIVINWELL” program/workshop which is delivered to schools through sports clubs, and as well as in the workplace and universities. If we can change the way society understands and interprets mental health we can make some pretty exciting changes in the mental health space and I see this being the change, we need to make from a very young age.
What influences and inspires your work?
After being one of the last people to have spoken with Dwayne the night he took his life, this sits extremely close to home for me and holds a very special place in my heart on a different level to most. I look back to the night I was with Dwayne and maybe, just maybe if I was trained or more educated in the area of mental health I could have helped more or said something differently that may have helped when he opened up to me. In a way I feel responsible but I know I wasn’t at all, but that’s how I have taken this on. It is my driving force behind everything that I do. Being someone that is both a loss survivor and a past sufferer myself of a mental illness I thought I said everything I could have that night. I listened better than I ever have before. The impact that Dwayne’s passing had on so many people, the devastation, the hurt and the heartbreak was insurmountable and something needed to be done. Like many, I could have turned to drinking and being upset at the world, but I had bigger plans in place and this is my way of giving back and redeeming myself. To this day I have lost family members and also friends to suicide and until it happens to you, you don’t see it coming. You think it won’t happen… It happens before the blink of an eye and I know that there are thousands if not millions of people out there just like Dwayne that are suffering in silence. It is now my job in the world to give these people light, give these people hope that there is a way out and that you are not on your own. Saving one life was the grand plan, but it is far bigger than that now and we want to change the way society understands mental illness. We want to give it a fresh new approach so that people are heard, stories are told and ultimately lives will be saved.
What does depression look like tangibly to the lay person?
To the average person the first and most common tangible factor that typifies depression is usually sadness. However, this isn’t the case at all. I have met with plenty of people who are now struggling with depression who thought they were merely sad before diagnosis. I have also met many people who were not all that sad that were diagnosed with depression. This is because society tends to associate depression with the primary symptom of pervasive sadness, many of us struggle to tell the difference between these two mental states. It is a big problem. Our confusion can lead us to neglect a serious condition that requires treatment or on the other end of the scale, overact to a normal emotional state of sadness. The reason why the distinction is crucial is, if for example we have a loved one who is depressed, it can have huge implications on their long term mental health and physical health if not treated. One of the more unfortunate consequences of this confusion between being sad and being depressed is how people with depression are expected to just snap out of it or told that it’s all in your head or you will get over it/harden up. Such attitudes reflect deep ignorance and misunderstanding of depression and these types of comments will only make the person with depression feel worse. This is where the stigma I believe stems from. There is a massive lack of mental health literacy and misunderstanding in society. To someone that is struggling it comes across like no one cares. They in fact care more than anything but because of the lack of understanding it comes across the wrong way and this wrong way could be the last point in a desperate person’s life looking for the right thing to be said.
What do you think perpetuates stigma in the states?
Stigma on a worldwide scale is variably different but stigma still persists when it comes time to talk about mental illness and all things brain health no matter where in the world you are. In some countries it is almost breaking the law speaking about it depending on the culture. After returning back to Australia from the National Council Conference for Behavioral Health in Las Vegas last month ( I must say this was an awesome experience by the way and we will be back next year), for America specifically, I think the tough, I am strong mentality that has carved its way through the American culture for many decades has had a big influence on the prolonging of stigma that still persists. Some people were shocked at the way we openly discussed our stories and journeys that have got us to where we are today and it was quiet fascinating to see that maybe for once the Australian culture is ahead of the game. The varying cultures and ways in which we are brought into this world have a massive influence on the stigma and expectations on us as human beings. To be brought into a world that praises a strong mentality, it would be very confronting for someone that is struggling to open up because they see that as a weakness. In fact, that’s all they see. Coupled with the feeling of weakness and vulnerability and together with a mental illness, it makes it near impossible to explain because unlike sports injuries, cancer, diabetes, or any physical injuries, you cannot see it and therefore it becomes very hard to talk about it to your average joe. Right here right now I cannot easily show you what a brain looks like that doesn’t suffer from a mental illness vs one that does. I cannot compare and show you a damaged cell or a part of the brain that justifies why I am feeling this way. Not being able to touch it or see it has made it one of the biggest challenges for people to truly understand it and to openly talk about it. To the person who is struggling with a mental illness and because of the stigma that is associated with it to this day; it quite often becomes easier not to talk about it because of all the justification that comes with it. Then comes the insecurities, embarrassment, feeling like a burden and then it spirals out of control because something that was once a small problem is now a massive problem and only you have been able to take it on. Like anything, there is a tipping point no matter what you do. Take for example holding in a squat position, you can only hold for as long as your body can handle it, you get tired, fatigue kicks in, you feel pain, your mind starts to play tricks on you. Then you drop, you cannot do anymore, your body is exhausted. But what if you had a couple of your mates around you that supported you doing your leg squats, held you up when you were tired, motivated you to keep going when your mind was wanting to give up… It becomes easier and you can take more and you improve and you get better and better. The same thing goes for a mental illness. It is no different. This is why it is so important to speak up and seek help because as long as you are talking you are not alone. 20% of the world population will encounter some type of mental illness in their lifetime, this goes to show you that you are not alone.
Do you have any advice for people on opening the lines of communication with a mate or family member who may be in trouble or struggling??
If you’re concerned about a loved one or a friend who might be acting off, just open up and ask them if everything is okay. Then listen. I think listening is the most important thing. Sometimes people want to open up and tell you how they feel but I think that can be extremely daunting for people as they may get confused and worried about what to say next. Sometimes people just want someone to listen. A simple “are you ok?” “Can I help”? could be the saving words that could take someone from a crisis to getting back on track and LIVIN again. They just want to know someone cares. A friend of mine Kevin Hines who I am working with on an upcoming documentary feature film “Suicide: The Ripple Effect” told me his story and something that will forever stick with me to the very end was that when he was getting off that bus to walk onto the Golden Gate bridge to what he is now a suicide attempt survivor, he just wanted someone to ask him are you ok? Can I help you? This he said could have stopped him from jumping that day. So in the magnitude of something to the ordinary person that doesn’t look so bad it could be everything and the biggest problem ever to the person struggling. Saying something very small could mean the world to that person and could save their life. Do not be afraid to ask for help or to get help. The worse thing to say to someone that is struggling from a mental illness is things like “get over it”, “harden up”,” you don’t see kids in 3rd world countries complaining”. The thing is when someone is struggling emotionally the smallest problems become great big problems. Mental illness colors all aspects of our lives, making everything less enjoyable, less interesting, less enjoyable and less worthwhile. If you think you or a loved one might be suffering from a mental illness like depression, it is important to seek the counsel of a trained mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. Depression is an extremely common mental illness and there are many treatments that benefit most people and with the right help and support you can get back to a great life.
LIVIN has already gained a huge following around the world, what’s next for the organization?
I guess now we are really looking at tightening our processes. There are always going to be things we can do more effectively or more efficiently but that’s all part of running an organization and adapting to the fast changing environment in which we live in. We are working tirelessly to get underway a LIVIN ACTIV range of clothing for men and women and kids. We picture this as the perfect way to workout while also contributing to a cause. The health and fitness industry is growing exponentially and part of our philosophy is a Healthy LIVIN= a Healthy Mind so this fits perfectly in with what we are promoting. We are also involved in a feature film documentary scheduled to release in January 2017 which is going to be awesome. This is called Suicide: The Ripple Effect. The trailer looked unreal. At the end of the day we want to be doing cool stuff because it is a very dark and touchy subject as it is so our goal is to give light to the darkness and give hope to those that need it most. Finally, I will be planning on coming to the states for some presenting opportunities and hopefully I get the opportunity meet more people in this space making positive changes to the world one life at a time.
What life message would you most LIKE kids to learn?
- Keep positive as often as possible.
- Do not worry about things that you have no control over.
- Persistence beats resistance – you will get what you want if you keep chipping away.
- Be patient – the best things do not happen overnight.
- Listening is the most powerful trait to have.
- Happiness is found from within yourself.
- You will have good days and bad days, embrace them as they do not last forever.
How can our readers help support LIVIN?
Readers and listeners can get involved by going to our website www.livin.org.au. We are always looking for new opportunities and people to connect and collaborate with. We are stronger as a team always.
Catching up with Sam after his first show with Mental Health News Radio – The gentleman that Sam is, he stayed in touch with Melanie Vann and Kristin Sunanta Walker. Emails came in from Sam with us sending him referrals to great humans doing great work in the world. You want people with positive energy meeting up with other terrific energy generators! We were so surprised to find out that after Livin made their U.S. debut in March of 2016 at The National Council of Behavioral Health conference, Sam was a whirlwind of activity. He ended up as a contestant on the Australian version of Survivor. The actor, Chris Hemsworth, of all the Thor movies promoted LIVIN which skyrocketed sales and brought more global awareness to the organization. And Sam still took time out to join us again. We are eternally grateful to know him and support LIVIN. #itaintweaktospeak
Sam Webb is from Sydney, Australia. Sam has appeared on a number of TV commercials and was also a contestant on a reality TV show for boxing. Sam spent some of his time living in St Louis MO, where he worked as a banker after graduating with a finance and accounting degree in 2012. After his return to Australia in 2013, Sam Co-founded the charity organization- LIVIN (www.livin.org.au) after the death of his good friend to suicide. Using an innovative approach to smashing the stigma on mental illness Sam and his partner Casey are now distributing their fashion line internationally that promotes the mantra, “It Ain’t weak To Speak”.
Sam has been both a loss survivor and a sufferer of mental illness. Having lost some of his family and many friends to suicide, Sam knows all too well the impact that suicide and mental illness has on the people around them. He now speaks internationally where he shares his experiences and delivers his approach for living a happier and healthier life one day at a time. He is also working on the feature film documentary: Suicide-The Ripple Effect, with Kevin Hines (www.kevinhinesstory.com) and a number of other members of #TeamRippleAus due to release early 2017.