Zak Williams, the son of acclaimed actor and comedian Robin Williams, will fly in from the US for this year's Albury-Wodonga Winter Solstice on the NSW-Victorian border town.
Survivors of Suicide & Friends will today announce Zak as its third speaker for the June 21 event, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary in 2022.
Speaking to The Border Mail ahead of his visit, Zak said it was a "wonderful privilege" to be asked to address this much-loved community gathering on the Border.
Now a passionate global mental health campaigner, Zak will share his own journey of loss, pain and recovery from trauma as the sun sets on the longest night of the year.
Zak lost his famous father to suicide in 2014.
His death made headlines across the world while his family grappled privately with their grief, having witnessed their adored father and husband unravelling in front of them.
Robin Williams, widely regarded as one of the greatest comedians of all time, was suffering with severe depression and had been originally diagnosed with early stage Parkinson's disease.
An autopsy was to later reveal he had Lewy body dementia - a condition his wife Susan Schneider Williams described as "the terrorist inside my husband's brain".
The actor, who also struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism throughout his life, experienced worsening anxiety, insomnia, paranoia and memory loss in the lead-up to his death.
"His brain was falling apart," Susan was to note.
It was a devastating decline for the Academy Award winner who famously said, "You're only given a little spark of madness; if you lose that you're nothing".
But his eldest son reveals the battle with mental health is "a topic we shared together as a family".
"I had a lot of empathy for what my father was experiencing," says Zak, 39, who admits he has also struggled with addiction in the past.
"We are very similar in that we both shared (problems with) anxiety; I've had insomnia the majority of my life."
Zak didn't begin to address his problems with mental health until his early thirties - after his father's death.
"I was in a major rut and needed to get out of it," he says.
He was to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Since then Zak has worked hard to establish a lifestyle that scaffolds his mental and physical health.
That includes addressing nutrition, fitness, therapy requirements, mindfulness and community supports.
"I engage with this on a daily basis to shift from surviving to thriving," he says.
This lived experience has also been the catalyst for Zak's advocacy work.
He now devotes much of his time to supporting initiatives and campaigns that remove the stigma and address the challenges of mental health-related issues.
"It is a major global health issue - I see it every single day," he states.
We have to find better ways to embrace one another ... and our different ways of being.- Zak Williams
A trustee of United for Global Mental Health and board member of advocacy group Bring Change 2 Mind (founded by actress Glenn Close), Zak has also addressed the United Nations General Assembly to launch the #SpeakYourMind campaign in 2020.
In late June he will speak at the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention's Long-Term Survivors of Suicide Loss summit.
Zak says there is a critical need to establish a robust care model to address the "mental health emergency" emerging in countries like the US and Australia.
"The numbers in the US are not good," he states.
"I'm particularly worried about the mental health of our under-25s.
"A recent Project Healthy Minds study of 2000 college students showed more than 90 per cent of those young people were experiencing mental health disregulation.
"We have to take this very seriously and break apart the problems associated with a mental health crisis.
"And we simply have to unlock resources for support."
In the US, for example, there is a dire lack of professional services and distribution of initiatives like e-care, according to Zak.
"People are innovating around it ... but we need a multi-faceted approach," he says.
"It starts at home and in schools."
Developing a culture of "strength in vulnerability" is vital if we are to reduce the stigma around mental health, according to Zak.
"We need to build vulnerability," he says.
"But it needs to be safe so that people don't experience disruption from being open."
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Addressing what is perceived as the qualities of masculinity is an important part of this process.
"Typically we see that for men, part of being strong is being reserved - silent as you suffer," Zak explains.
"We need to start showcasing other elements of masculinity.
"And we need to find better ways to embrace one another and our different ways of being."
The CEO and founder of anxiety relief company PYM (Prepare Your Mind) is a big believer in "neurotransmitter health".
Together with his wife Olivia June, Zak developed a range of "safe, natural and effective mental hygiene products" to help handle the daily stressors and life events that can impact mental health.
"PYM prepares your mind to produce the naturally occurring neurotransmitters that help you feel like yourself again," the website states.
It's in this space of awareness-raising, innovation and inspiration that Zak has found his own path to healing.
"I discovered service makes me happy," he says.
It's an uncanny echo of a comment made by his father during one of the many interviews asking the actor to reflect on the highs and lows of his illustrious career.
"You realise the thing that matters are others ... way beyond yourself," Robin Williams said.
Zak enjoyed a "wonderful friendship" with his father.
"He was an awesome dad," he says.
"He had very focused time with myself and my siblings, which we greatly appreciated.
"When he thought to be present, he was very present."
The pair pursued mutual hobbies; they collected toys and played computer games.
"We loved watching sci-fi moves together - Dad's favourite was Dr. Strangelove."
The hugely popular actor juggled his family commitments and career "as well as one can", Zak reflects.
"It's the nature of being an entertainer - being there for your audience," he shrugs.
"We understood that."
Of all the movies Robin Williams starred in, Zak loved his father in Good Morning Vietnam, where he played an irreverent radio disc-jockey shipped to Saigon on the eve of the Vietnam War to boost morale among the troops.
"It's just him at his best," Zak says fondly.
"I knew a lot of funny folk but dad was one of the funniest guys."
Widely celebrated for his quick wit and razor sharp stand-up routines, Williams' diversity as an actor was lauded when he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the drama Good Will Hunting.
US president Barack Obama described Robin Williams as "one of a kind" in a statement released after his death.
Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between.
... He arrived in our lives as an alien -- but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most ...
The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin's family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams
But for his son, the legacy of Robin Williams lies with the life lessons he imparted.
"What I will always remember and appreciate is him teaching us that being kind is paramount," Zak says.
"I only hope I can apply some of those lessons to my own children."
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