Men’s Journal’s Everyday Warrior With Mike Sarraille is a podcast that inspires individuals to live more fulfilling lives by having conversations with disrupters and high performers in all walks of life. In episode 29, we spoke to Zak Williams, actor, producer, and son of the late Robin Williams.

Listen to the full episode above (scroll down for the transcript) and see more from this series below.

This interview has not been edited for length or clarity.


Mike Sarraille:
Welcome to the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior podcast. I’m your host, Mike Sarraille. We’ve got Zach Williams today, we’re gonna have a great conversation about mental health. Uh, Zach has dedicated his life to helping others in impacting, uh, others, uh, on the, the, the mental and emotional side. And let’s be honest, you know, Zach and I spoke before this, um, mental health does not mean mental weakness. It means you’re outta balance. Some things are going on in your life that you’re, you’re, you’re human and, and you just gotta find a way to get back into, uh, into balance or deal with the depression, the anxiety that you have. Oh, yes. And Zach, uh, you may better know him through his father Robin Williams, who defined, uh, a generation of TV and comedy, uh, that particularly a lot of generations, including my generation, uh, grew up on. Zach, thank you for, uh, for joining us today.

Zak Williams:
Thanks so much for having me, Mike. It’s an absolute privilege to be here

Mike Sarraille:
Today. Well, Zach, I know we, we have one thing in common. Uh, you, were you, so you were born in San Francisco, or raised in San Francisco? Born

Zak Williams:
And raised. Born, born and raised in San Francisco until I was 18, where I moved to New York.

Mike Sarraille:
Ooh, that is a, uh, that’s a shift cuz you, you got your MBA from Columbia, but where did you do your undergrad?

Zak Williams:
I went to New York University. I studied, uh, linguistics.

Mike Sarraille:
Linguistics. Interesting. What pushed you that direction, uh, for that major?

Zak Williams:
Um, well, actually for me, I was, I started becoming interested in the acquisition of language, especially how children started learning language. And it was, uh, discipline and science that I knew very little about. And I was like, Wow, this is fascinating. And there’s a technical element, which I love more, so technically minded. And so it gave me an opportunity to really understand the deeper elements of not only how we process language, but how we learn and how we share ideas and symbols to make up, you know, communication. And, uh, underlying that also was my interest in artificial intelligence. And, uh, linguistics is very much a, uh, a constituent of that discipline.

Mike Sarraille:
No kidding. It, You know, I took in my undergrad business marketing, which having even gone and got my mba, just, I wish I would’ve focused on something different like either English rhetoric or, uh, or history, which sort of combines all of those. But, um, I will definitely, uh, not push my kids to, uh, to go into a major that, uh, necessarily they don’t, they don’t have a passion for. Um, you know, I know that, you know, growing up under a father, uh, like you had, uh, an amazing man, um, that sometimes that naturally pushes you towards the entertainment, uh, realm. And you look at, you know, Colin Hanks or Patrick, uh, Schwarzenegger who, who falled in the footsteps of their respective fathers. I mean, what was it like growing up, uh, watching your dad on TV and in the, uh, and in the movies?

Zak Williams:
It was weird at first, of course, as, as you come to realize it’s all, you know, <laugh>, it suddenly becomes quite normal. And you see the sets, you see the different actors manifesting on the screen and you, and you’re like, this is just what it is. This is part of a normal experience. The thing was, growing up in San Francisco, um, where there’s not a really, there’s, there’s an entertainment industry, but there’s, it’s not nearly as developed as Los Angeles. And, and for me, my upbringing was pretty normal, for lack of a better word. Um, and so there was, there was kind of almost like a suspension of belief around everything that was going on with my father’s career and what was going on with the films and then his home and family life. Right. And so I, for my lens, I, I always had interest in entertainment. Um, but for me, what, what was a greater draw was business and building products and learning about systems and helping change behavior through, you know, systematizing ideas. And so I think it, it’s not that I wasn’t interested in entertainment, I, I am and will continue to be. It’s more so that other things were drawing me forward, you know, with more magnetism. So, so I loved seeing my following films, but the films that I was most attracted to might be films that would be considered less or known.

Mike Sarraille:
No kidding. Outside of the genre of what he did?

Zak Williams:
Well, no. I mean, the films I was attracted to that he did might be considered less or known. I mean, my favorite films of his were world according to Garp Fisher King, Good Morning, Vietnam. Some people might know those films, but they might not be as kind of front and center as Mrs. Doubtfire or, you know, some

Mike Sarraille:
Other, Did, did, did you just say Good morning, Vietnam was a lesser known film because that, that would shake my world as I know it, man, There maybe that, maybe that’s just,

Zak Williams:
I mean, it depend, it depends. I, you know, I would say, uh, of, of all his films, Good Morning, Vietnam was one that I think was, was one of his best by far. But, um, not one that people come up and share to me as being their favorite, which is actually a, you know, one could, can, could be considered unusual cuz it’s a phenomenal film. Oh,

Mike Sarraille:
I, I was gonna give my best rendition, uh, of, uh, of his intro to that radio show. But, uh, I would, I would not do him justice and I would also embarrass myself in the, uh, the process. But no, that was one of my favorite facts. Well,

Zak Williams:
Well, our listeners will feel their, your rendition and their heart and soul should you so appreciate that.

Mike Sarraille:
Good morning, Vietnam. Let’s see. No,

Zak Williams:
All right. Good start. Good start.

Mike Sarraille:
No, great, great film. Um, no, You know, the fact that your parents lived in, in San Francisco, was that done intentionally by your parents to not live in the, the Hollywood, Los Angeles area and to sort of keep you separate?

Zak Williams:
Um, I think, I think my parents love the quality of life in San Francisco. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, mind you, that’s a quality of life that has degraded somewhat over time. But, but San Francisco, the one that I grew up in, was a phenomenal place to live in, and I believe will be a phenomenal place to live in a certain key issues around kind of what’s happened over the a period of time Are, are fixed up?

Mike Sarraille:
I do, I could not agree more, man. But, uh, growing up in San Francisco in the eighties and the nineties was, was awesome. I mean, I still have a lot of family there. Uh, cousin on the police department, cousin in the, uh, the fire department. Um, no, San Francisco is, I mean, you go to the top of Coy Tower, that is one of the most beautiful scenes you’ll ever see, uh, anywhere. The, the, the Bay and everything else. It will, hopefully, I’m with you. It’ll, it’ll sort of bounce back. Uh, we just need some good leadership in there to, to, to make the right decisions. But, um, you know, when did you feel that you had that passion that you said towards the, the business realm? The, the, the, the, as you said, creating products, systems, things along those lines. When, when did that bug hit you? When did you know at what age that was your path?

Zak Williams:
Uh, <laugh>. I, I didn’t, I didn’t put my finger on it until actually I was over 30 <laugh>. The thing was, I, I I’m just attracted, was attracted and attracted to people building cool things, things that I think are valuable to other people. And so for me it was less so about, Hey, it’s about the systems and products. It’s more so about this human’s doing something cool. I wanna learn more about that and learn how I can better help them. And, you know, that started with video games and help build, you know, uh, restaurant guide and in my early career. But, but ultimately that transition more into, um, focus on mental health and, and things like, you know, evidence backed approaches towards supporting people. Also, ai also ways in which you can kind of take the premise, Hey, that’s cool. And evolve it into, Hey, that’s cool. And it will change the way in which humanity thinks about this. Right? And so kinda, I think, I think for a lot of people, there’s a major opportunity if, if they can love what they do and learn during the first part of their career, learn how to do it better, develop mastery of craft, things like that, and then apply it to, Hey, I’ve learned all these things, now I can go out and make the most impact I possibly can. That shift happened for me about six years ago.

Mike Sarraille:
No

Zak Williams:
Kidding. So, you know, I was kind of in my early thirties when I realized, Hey, it’s like you’ve learned all these things, but now go put them to major use.

Mike Sarraille:
Let’s be honest, man. That is the hardest part though, is, uh, is finding what you’re passionate about. I mean, and, and I don’t know, you know, let’s, let’s put some realism to this. You gotta make money to support your family in your lifestyle, whatever that is. Right? And some people have a higher, uh, uh, let’s say higher quality of life that costs more money. But, um, hell, I found it early. I loved the military, not necessarily the job per se, but, but just being surrounded by like-minded people and, and being part of a tribe. And then when I had to leave, you know, when I’m 40, it was the, Oh shit, what am I passionate about now? And it’s hell, I’m 44, and I think I’m starting to just sort of figure that out again. But, um, you know, for you, again, having a, a father of, of, of, uh, you know, celebrity status, did your parents, you know, what was their advice to you? Go find your passion, blaze your own trail, Not, they didn’t push you in one direction. Um, how, how did that sort of the, your, your coaching and mentoring from your parents go with regards to that aspect?

Zak Williams:
You know, it’s a great question. I was talking about it with my wife two days ago. Um, she’s an entrepreneur, she’s a co-founder of my company. She also has a tech company focused on helping women find friendships and, um, called Vena. Uh, and our company is called pim pim.com. Prepare your mind. And, uh, we realized that from our perspectives, our experience around it was our parents wanted us to be happy doing what we were doing. And that’s what my father wanted. He wanted me to be happy. The thing is, is that what I hope for myself, I mean, I, I picked up on this several years ago, but, you know, for people potentially listening is that finding ways to create an occupation for yourself that makes you happy is something that I didn’t initially set out to do, but I ultimately found. And for people whom want to, you know, establish a career and sustain and support their family and the, like, you know, I think most people, not everybody, but I, I ideally, most everyone can find the opportunity to support their family and do what makes them happy.

Zak Williams:
Right? The good thing is, and the, and the positive feedback loop around this is if you do what makes you happy, you will get better at doing that thing over time. You might suck it at it first, but you know, it will keep you engaged. And if you’re talking about incremental improvement, part of the, part of how incremental improvement works is you have to stay engaged over a period of time. Yeah. Right? And so happiness should go hand in hand with that. The thing for me is, hey, yeah, you’re thinking, uh, you know, one would think, Oh, you know, what makes you happy eating food, hence gonna learn how to cook or become a professional eater. It’s like, yeah, that’s an element of being happy, but, but I’m really finding it, It’s really about the meaningful happiness that you can derive from meaningful work, from fulfillment in life.

Zak Williams:
And for me, it’s all about service, right? I, I discover that being of service makes me happy. And so I initially started my career at electronic arts making video games, and I was like, you know, that was very much aligned with, Hey, I love video games, hence I’m gonna do this. And it makes me happy. I love making video games. It was a very fulfilling, uh, occupation. Um, but in the longer run, I I, over time, what I, what I started realizing was there’s that kind of surface level happiness, and then there’s that deep, meaningful, fulfilling level of happiness. And that’s ultimately what I was drawn to over a period of time. And linking back to your question, um, my parents wanted to see me happy. And so the thing for me is that definition of happiness evolved over time. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it always related to having a career, having, you know, a way to sustain and support myself. But the, the sneaking evolution around it ultimately led me to discover that service is my path to happiness. Probably similarities in what, what you’ve done in the military, there’s an major element of service with that, right?

Mike Sarraille:
100%. 100%. Uh, but I’m sure, you know, find what you’re happy, but then pour into it. Pour into it, and

Zak Williams:
Right. Invest.

Mike Sarraille:
Make it your career. Make it your profession. And, and I think, right, you know, I think a lot of people get it wrong is they’re like, Well, if I turn what, what I’m happy about into a profession, then it’ll just become toxic at some point. And, and I can understand that, you know, I, you know, I saw my dad start a company. He was also born and raised in San Francisco, a marketing company. That was his passion. That’s what he loved. But towards the end, you know, it just changed. But, um, and eventually sold the company. But I think that is just the, the, the ebbs and flows of life. And you yourself said you didn’t find your path until six years ago? Um,

Zak Williams:
Yeah. Yeah. I was 33.

Mike Sarraille:
33. And so, you know, that of course is after, after you lost your father. I’m sure that that helped push you in, in a certain direction. In, in,

Zak Williams:
Well, well, the, the direction that pushed me towards was alcohol <laugh>, really active alcoholism and trauma. Um, so, so yes, in that sense, it certainly did. And not to say I wasn’t self-medicating and, and manifesting some, you know, some alcohol tendencies, but it really came fr front and center. Sorry, I wasn’t manifesting some alcohol tendencies prior to his passing, but it didn’t come front and center until after he passed away. So

Mike Sarraille:
You found a mechanism, not a good mechanism, but you found a mechanism to, to, to, to numb the pain. Uh, so

Zak Williams:
Right.

Mike Sarraille:
And again, you know, I, Hey, I’m gonna withhold judgment, uh, from, from, from, from those type of things in the future. Cuz quite frankly, I turned to a little bit of alcohol when I left the military. And I lost my tried in my, my sense of purpose, you know, that that’s what I, and then also the guilt of, of leaving guys behind. But let me ask you this, cuz you know,

Zak Williams:
So go

Mike Sarraille:
Ahead. Go

Zak Williams:
Ahead. So yeah, no, first off, Mike, I really appreciate you sharing that You turned to that for me, it was my path to healing and recovery that led me to discover service. So, you know, I’ve been sober for over five years at this point. And the lens that I’ve had is it, it required me to kind of see, look into the abyss to help me discover, you know, the road to healing and recovery and finding joy and happiness. So like that was the frame of reference around.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And how long have you been married?

Zak Williams:
Uh, this time around two years. Two

Mike Sarraille:
Years, okay. Did, did you know your current wife when you’re going through those times? Or did you meet her after

Zak Williams:
She helped me, she helped me find a, a solutions to healing. Okay. We created a whole company around it. Yeah. Uh, my company’s focused on nutrition for mental wellbeing. I mean, I just learned all about this cuz when I stopped drinking, I was just a bit of a nervous wreck and anxious and sad and, you know, just feeling all these things. And it turns out that, you know, I was using alcohol to self medicate. And she helped me really understand and identify as like, Hey, you’re not taking care of yourself and help, you know, you should look at what you’re doing over the course of the day and start recalibrating around that. But we were just friends around, around that time. We just, we ultimately went through our respective, uh, breakups and then discovered that we were actually, uh, designate, designated is not the right word. We were, we were destined to, to start a life

Mike Sarraille:
Together. That’s, dude, that’s awesome. Um, what, and it’s funny you say depression and anxiety. I had never had anxiety, anxiety in the military once ever on, on my combat deployments ever. And then once I’m out, I started to get this sensation, I’m like, What the hell is this? And it started to date my now wife and literally had to pull the car over and call her and say, I think I’m having a heart attack. She’s like, It’s not a heart attack. You’re healthy. It’s anxiety. Um, she helped me breathe through it and then, uh, get back on my way. But, uh, and, and I was still drinking at that time, but, uh, what, I do want to go backwards, but before we do, what was the, the final nail in the coffin. And during those hard times when you were utilizing the alcohol to numb the pain, was it a certain event or, or, or someone in your life that, that put that nail in the coffin and said, Hey, time out that we’re not going down this path anymore. You’ve gotta uh, you’ve got a course correct.

Zak Williams:
Okay. Well, I’m just gonna lay it all out there. In the spirit of vulnerability is that I, I was going, I was going through a divorce, I was going through a lawsuit. Uh, my father’s widow decide to take my family to court. Um, and I was traumatized from my father dying by suicide. And that collection of things, um, led me to not want to feel anything. Right. And so it was like a, it was a trifecta primarily, but it was, it was also like, you know, I need to be accountable here. It’s not just like divorces, breakups happen. I mean, it was very much relating to how I was self-medicating and treating not feeling great most of the time. And so, you know, the lens for me, the nail in the proverbial nail in the coffin was not wanting to get up and go through the day cuz I was fearful and afraid and anxious about what the day would bring.

Zak Williams:
And, and I said to myself, I can’t continue down this journey meaningfully and see, you know, a happy and happy outcome to it. And so, so the lens for me was just like, there has to be something better than this. And that’s, that better. Something likely has to do with taking better care of myself. Cuz the alternative is not taking better care of myself. And it’s not like that’s gonna see some, some major, you know, awesome outcome. It, it, you, you, it really, I I had to take a lens courage and just say, Hey, you know, anything has to be better than this. So you just started kind of like this principle of look what’s in front of you. Figure out what you can do to change those things in your environment and then incrementally stack up the good so that ultimately the good days outweigh the bad days. And ultimately you can orient around how you wanna live your life and who you wanna be and how you wanna be happy. So it was a, it was a procedural thing.

Mike Sarraille:
I I think you said you used the right, right word. It takes a lot of courage to change that pattern, uh, of behavior. Behavior. Cuz let’s be honest, the easiest thing to do is just to, to continue lying in bed and using alcohol. That’s the easiest thing to do, just to stick with what you know. But for a lot of people that, that leap that you made is the hardest part. Um, it’s no different than, than than somebody who’s struggling with obesity who can’t break their dietary habits from what’s making the mob. That’s the hardest thing in, in the world. And kudos to you, man, for, for, for taking that leap.

Zak Williams:
Well, Mike, you know, Mike, you brought up a really good point, which is you didn’t, anxiety wasn’t a thing when you were actively deployed. Right? And when you’re busy, whether it, you know, my Casey was grieving or with work, I have a tendency to work a lot. And you know, when when that stops, that kind of, that structure ends and you’re suddenly left to stew in your own thoughts and things like that, that’s when things can get kind of intense. Right. And, you know, for me, it just happened to the catalyst was, you know, leaving my job to kind of start figuring out how to better take care of myself and things like that. But that just ultimately led to a wa you know, a cascade of things that led me ultimately to discovering sobriety, but also a path to healing. Uh, ultimately healing from the trauma, discovering solutions for the anxiety, discovering solutions for the depression. And a large part of that was mental health advocacy. You,

Mike Sarraille:
You, you say mental health, that wasn’t a term that was all that widely used, you know, 8, 10, 12 years ago. Um, you know, I, I wanna get to the work that you’re doing now, cuz I, I find it so intriguing that you’re, you’re not only putting certain practices and procedures in place, but you’re actually are attacking it from the ingestibles and in, you know, certain, uh, holistic, uh, substances, substances that, that can help people with mental health. But, um, you know, this is the last question I have about your father. Um, what I viewed from a different angle. Uh, I know you were really close to your father, Uh, you considered him your best friend. Um, I know how, how you’ve spoken about him, uh, especially in the HBO documentary, which was, uh, coming inside my head. Um, and I know he was a loving, loving father. But, uh, you said something, I’m gonna read this, that sometimes your father did not feel like he was succeeding, yet he was the most successful person you knew. And I think anyone who, who looked from an outside lens into Robin Williams would agree with that statement. I mean, I look at Rob Williams and I think, oh, one of the, one of the most, uh, established comedians, uh, of my time. Wh what did you mean? Uh, by that.

Zak Williams:
Um, often when you find folks who are so propelled and so engaged around what they do, that the level of where they are versus where they wanna be will never essentially be achieved. Um, even people at the pinnacle of their performance, and it’s the nature of highly successful people, but also in certain contexts, it can lead to highly successful people not feeling like they’re anywhere near there, Not fi feeling like they’re anywhere near where they can be. And I think in his case, you know, especially when in, in the, especially in the field of entertainment, when you’re going out there, you’re constantly putting stuff out there and you’re being judged constantly. It’s not only just movies, tv, it’s also standup. And I think in, in his situation, in my father’s situation, it was, um, and this isn’t unique to him mm-hmm. <affirmative> specifically, when it comes to entertainers, many people have approached me specifically about this saying, you know, I, I identify with that experience.

Zak Williams:
You know, you can have success but you, but that doesn’t mean you’re gonna feel success. The thing about entertainment and specifically stand up comedy in the, like, is that you, success for you go so far is your audience in the room, right? In the case of film and tv, it’s critics, but, you know, critics and then, you know, box office and then, you know, ultimately potentially audience scores or people, you know, reviews, social media, things like that. In the case of standup comedy, you’re only as good as your your last show. Right? That’s what sticks with you. And so yeah, it can be super successful, that might feel great, but the next show might be an off day or an off room or things like that. And it just sets thing along a whole other path. And, you know, I’m oriented towards that same way too, um, in that, you know, having had the opportunity to achieve some success of mode of success.

Zak Williams:
But, but I don’t feel it. All I see is what’s ahead. What can we do better? How can I improve? How can we, you know, calibrate tune? And I’m not a perfectionist. It’s not about perfection. It’s about a mission that drives me forward where it’s, you know, until I see, until I see a couple, couple things happen, I’m not going to even Dan my work as success. And, you know, of course that means more resourcing for mental health communities. It means every American getting, you know, access to high quality, affordable, equitable care. You know, it’s like these things, like, that’s success for me. In my father’s case, he wanted everyone in the world to be happy, <laugh>. You know? So that’s a huge

Mike Sarraille:
Burden to take on. That’s an unrealistic thing. It is. Take on.

Zak Williams:
It is. And so, you know, two things specifically, he wanted to help people laugh and help people learn. Right. And, you know, I would say in conjunction with that, he wanted to see people happy. And so, you know, that’s, that’s where I was coming from when I was saying that. Yep. And, and you know, I I, I think there’s a lot of professions, there’s a lot of experiences for people both in the US and abroad where it, it’s not uncommon, it’s not an uncommon thing, It’s just, you know, when it comes to exceptional careers, um, it can be surprising when you’re like, Oh, wow, this person is at the top of his game. You know, according to one recent survey, it was like, he’s the third most recognized person in American history, which was surprising that for living Americans.

Mike Sarraille:
That’s awesome.

Zak Williams:
Third most, third most liked, excuse me, had that third best, highest impression behind it was like Abraham Lincoln and mlk. Right. And it was just like, it was like, whoa. That’s why. Was MLK,

Mike Sarraille:
Judy, I’m sorry, was that said after he passed away? Or before? Yeah, that’s dude, he, yeah. That he’s smiling down. Um, not the way he would’ve wanted to hear that, but he, he has to be smiling down that if you wanted to make people laugh, if he wanted to make pe people feel happy, there’s no greater indicator than that, uh, that ranking.

Zak Williams:
Well, <laugh>, I mean, you know, uh, I think it’s an interesting thing to see. It was a u gov pole. Um, and, uh, but, but I’m, I’m not surprised, you know, um, from my lens, if you’re oriented towards wanting people to be happier, and I guess in the case of, you know, Abraham Lincoln and MLK Junior, like free, you know, um, but I think the lens of making a mission to help people laugh and learn is one that other people can identify with. That’s really what it comes down to.

Mike Sarraille:
Zach, in, in, and I’m looking at this through, through my lens, having known a couple guys who have taken their own lives, uh, there were no indicators. There were none, none of us would’ve suspected that these guys were struggling to the degree that they were, that they took their own lives. Um, and that’s, that’s conversations, uh, hindsight of, uh, some of our friends committing suicide. Did you feel there are any signs with your father leading up to that faithful day?

Zak Williams:
Uh, one consideration just in within the suicide prevention community is dying by suicide? Yeah. Um, just, it’s something I learned over time mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and it’s helpful for me cuz it helps establish the fact that, to your point, um, there’s, you know, we don’t know for different people. There’s not necessarily agency, it’s, it’s, you know, things, it’s, it’s symptomatic of all sorts of other things. Yeah. Right. And you know, from my experience, what I’ve learned is that you said it, you know, indicators were not apparent. Indicators were not prevalent. And it comes outta the blue. And the key thing is, is, uh, really supporting populations and helping provide resources, um, so that they know when it, when it comes, cuz people aren’t necessarily gonna reach out, especially the family and friends with stigma when there’s stigma associated with it. And things like that, is if they have top of mind solutions and resources that they can reach out to, it puts, it puts people in a better situation to help manage, um, their feelings and potential ideation.

Zak Williams:
And that’s why I was so, so focused on supporting, uh, content and spreading awareness around 9 88, the crisis lifeline. Because what’s become critically apparent is that education is the key element. And um, you know, when it comes to things like suicide and the like, first off, we need to remove the blame. That’s really, when I say, you know, dying by suicide and the like, committing associates it with a crime. Right. And, you know, I I, I am not a stranger to the experience of having friends, family died by suicide. When I was 12 years old. My cousin, who was one of my closest friends, died by suicide. And you know, at the time we say it very, you know, very succinct, very matter of factly, he committed suicide. And I associated so much blame with him and, uh, and, you know, his act, I was like, Why was he so selfish?

Zak Williams:
Why, why was his experience one that led him to deprive the world and his family of, of this beautiful human being? Right. And the frustration and anger for me was really came outta place, was like, this was out of the blue. This was something that I didn’t know was an issue. He lived, he lived, you know, across the United States for me. But we would see each other quite often. And um, and, you know, the resources available at the time were scant. And he was 13 years old. Sorry, he wasn’t 12, he was 13. I was 12. And, um, the challenge from my perspective is, and I learned this later too, is that like we’re oriented towards frustration and anger and like asking ourselves what could have been done? What could have been done better? How could we have improved the situation or circumstances or environment?

Zak Williams:
And in many, many, many cases, the only thing that could have been done is giving people the resources they have at hand. I mean, there, there’s certain things like someone on a path of addiction, right? Or, you know, um, in a situation where they’re experiencing serious mental illness and don’t have the support they need there, there are certain things that can be established to provide a better, more suitable environment prior to that. But in situations where you’re not seeing indicators, you have to provide education to as many people as possible so that they know where they can go to when they’re in need. Because often the cases, they can’t go to their family in many situations. They can’t go to their friends cuz they’re, they, you know, in certain peer environments, they feel they might be ridiculed or teased or not be taken seriously. Right.

Zak Williams:
And so we see it across the board, you know, frustration both from the individual side, but also from the communities and families being like, we, we have frustration and resentment because he didn’t share any of this. Therefore, you know, there is blame to be had in this circumstance. And, you know, I think we really need to, to take a new orientation around things and understand that it’s not about blame, it’s about education, it’s about resources, it’s about culture, it’s about stigma. And we’re gonna, we’re gonna continue eating crow as a nation until we start recognizing that this is a cultural thing. A hundred percent. It’s not about the indivi. Yeah. It’s not about the individuals who didn’t give, you know, didn’t provide ind indicators. It, it, it’s about what’s the culture that we were brought up in that doesn’t allow the permissibility to be vulnerable when we’re going through crisis.

Mike Sarraille:
Did you, you’ve given me so much to unpack there, but, uh, have you ever read the book Tribe by Sebastian Younger?

Zak Williams:
Uh, parts of it.

Mike Sarraille:
Okay. Yes. The part of

Zak Williams:
I have it, I

Mike Sarraille:
You got it somewhere in the shelf.

Zak Williams:
Yeah, I have it. I I have a bookshelf over here and it is there, but I haven’t, I haven’t read it in full. I’ve read X.

Mike Sarraille:
So first off, the guy’s an amazing writer and I, I got to meet him at Fleet Week in San Francisco, uh, Postretirement. And I got to sit down with him and ask him a few questions. But, you know, he did look at partly the problem with veterans coming home and committing suicide at staggering. And you just said committing. And, and you know what, that is a, a fo pop cuz it is not passing judgment. If anything, it’s, damn, what was this person battling where they, they couldn’t use the three strongest words in the English, uh, language. I need help. Those are so powerful. Well, you

Zak Williams:
Know, my, Mike, I don’t blame you for using that word because, you know, it was a word that I I use up until I learned the reframing it two and a half years ago. You know, the, the thing, the thing for me is I, I, I didn’t realize how powerful the language is, and please continue. I just, I, I really want to hear No, it is what you,

Mike Sarraille:
You know, and it is, and, uh, you know, being a Catholic, God bless the, uh, the Catholics. I know they have a very, uh, specific view on, uh, suicide that I don’t necessarily, uh, share. But there’s a lot of things about the, the Catholic religion that I, I disagree with. Um, uh, you know, there is a sense of dying by suicide where someone’s trying not to put the burden of their problems on other people. And when you think about that, if you wanna look at it, you could say that’s selfless in a way too. I don’t agree with it, but they do it in a selfless, uh, manner when I’d rather they come to me and say, Hey, I’m having these problems. Okay, let’s work through ’em. But Sebastian Younger basically looked at, uh, modern day society compared to Native American tribal cultures where they have a much lower suicide rate compared to, uh, to, to our modern day society for a number of reasons.

Mike Sarraille:
I think we’ve lost that connective tissue, uh, amongst human beings, uh, in today’s society where people don’t really care. You, you’ve got your inner circles. And then beyond that, people really don’t care that, that’s my opinion. And I don’t wanna paint, uh, overly dra picture, but, um, we just don’t have that, that pri decor, that homecoming and belong belonging that people had with even their small communities back in the day. It, it takes a, uh, village to, to raise a child. Uh, that very much lived. You know, you know, decades ago when, you know, you, you, you left your parents home at 8:00 AM they said, be back by the, you know, by, by 8:00 PM when dinner served. And basically you were a part of several different families and their parents, uh, running in and outta their houses and, and things like that. And we, we’ve lost that. But, um,

Zak Williams:
We have, Yeah, I, I I mean in many, in many communities throughout the US and elsewhere. Yeah.

Mike Sarraille:
The, the, the thing about, you know, resources, and I agree with you on education, dude, and I think there’s a few things I I disagree with, with education and our system today. I mean, hell, you’re not even educating kids how to be leaders, leadership development in the attributes like empathy and respect and kindness and accountability and all those things that go with it. But, you know, and I don’t know what’s going on in terms of education of our, our elementary or grammar schools, but you, you may be more knowledgeable, more knowledgeable to this, are, are we educating our, our kids on mental health? Are those subjects being taught in, uh, K through 12?

Zak Williams:
So the short answer is, is sort of partially. Partially, yeah. And in high schools it’s a bit better. I’ve worked with an organization called Bring Change to Mind for the past seven years, founded by the actor Glenn Close. It’s focused on deploying peer to peer com or training high schoolers to deploy peer to peer, uh, mental health communities in high schools and then also create mental health focus curricula to then share amongst high school, high schools and some universities. Um, so there, so mental health education is actually reasonably challenging at every stage of education. Um, it’s under resourced at the early level, especially at like elementary school. Um, people are concerned around teaching mental health because they, they’re worried that there’s liability associated with it, Um, which

Mike Sarraille:
We did to ourselves. That which we’ve done to our

Zak Williams:
Yes. Yeah. <laugh>, this is like, you know, calling a spade is spade here. We, we’ve, we’ve, we’ve uh, <laugh> we’ve, we’ve progressed to a point where the progressive has, uh, has created issues in its own right. Um, so, so yeah. On elementary level, there, there, you know, people are cautious in going in there cuz it, it, there’s a lot of legal liability and liability in general associated with it. Um, at the high school level, it’s, it’s better and it’s getting more and more better. And, you know, hats off to the young generation gen, Gen Z and Gen Alpha for talking more openly about these issues. They’ve created environments where, you know, it is more permissible to talk about these things from a resourcing perspective. Um, the government, the public sector is getting a bit better Yeah. Around it. Yep. But we’re still su we’re still super under resourced.

Zak Williams:
The, the stat I use constantly is that medical GDP relative to total GDP expenditure, medical GDP expenditure for mental health relative to total medical GDP extend expenditure is three and a half percent. Um, where we, we, we need to be at around 16%, uh, for medical GDP expenditure for mental health. And so that extends to, you know, how the public sector, how our school districts are, you know, investing in behavioral health in the like, And, you know, there, there are some states that are making leaps and bounds. Um, I will say California has been pretty good about it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, New York State has been pretty good about it. Um, there are certain states like, uh, Arizona, which has been really great about it. Um, not, not states you, you would expect, but, but they’re there and they’re focusing on, on investing more. And the thing is, is it requires, when it comes to mental health investment, it requires a bunch of different elements and co you know, communities working in concert, it’s not just public sector.

Zak Williams:
If the public sector said, Hey, we need to prioritize mental health, but the communities are saying we need to prioritize, you know, substance use, which is related to mental health, but you know, we need to, we need to prioritize this over talking about mental hygiene and, you know, trauma support. It, it’s that disconnect can lead to issues. So it requires a lot of alignment from a bunch of different stakeholders. Um, to further answer your question, at the university level, it’s getting better, but at universities you’re just competing for so many different resources. So the short answer to it is it’s complicated. The longer answer is things are getting better, but not nearly fast enough to where they need to be.

Mike Sarraille:
Dude, Zach, I’ve got two, two comments and, and maybe a question, uh, maybe, um, one, I’ll tell you this, You can have all the resources in the world, but if your culture doesn’t support it, you are wasting time. It’s the same thing in the military. In the early days of the war, people are like, Hey, we’ve got the, uh, the shrink, the command shrink over here, open door policy. I don’t care if, if the shrink had 17 doors to his office, Nobody’s breaking the ranks to be the first guy that walks, uh, past everyone and into the, uh, the shrinks office. It just culturally Yeah, you, I wouldn’t say you’re, you’re committing career, uh, suicide. Not, not to use pun on words, but it just, Yeah. There, there would be judgment and you weren’t gonna do it. Um, I, I equate teaching mental health though, to same as teaching, like leadership development, who you have teaching it de is like, is one of the most important things cuz it’s not somebody you respect. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, then you’re not gonna listen. If somebody’s trying to teach me leadership, yet they’ve never served as a leader or you know, their true character and it’s not up to par, it’s like, yep. Gotcha. O over the head. Done. But

Zak Williams:
Here, that’s such a fantastic point. Here,

Mike Sarraille:
Here, here’s, here’s my question, man. Cuz this is where I struggle. It’s like a dichotomy. You’ve got mental health here and you have mental toughness over here in, in, it’s, where’s the, the, the dimmer switch between the two? At what point? And I hear some people that, and I, I think it goes to, then you gotta bring in the, the subject of victimhood where they’re, they’re always complaining about their mental health, just complaining all the time. And, and I’m struggling whether like, Okay, are you having legitimate mental health issues or is this a, a, a, a product of victimhood where you claim mental health because then you get attention in people or woe is, uh, woe is me. But in my point is where, like, where, where is the balance between mental toughness and mental health? Have you ever thought about that?

Zak Williams:
Yeah, I mean, I, I think about it on a daily basis, um, primarily because I’m so invested in the idea of mental hygiene. Yeah. The idea that taking 20 minutes a day with daily rituals focused on nutrition, fitness, mindfulness, meditation, therapy, community support, uh, breath work, self-improvement. I’m big on intermittent fasting. That’s my new thing now. But, but if you apply those effectively over the course of the day, you can develop a foundational approach towards really meaningful outcomes. So, so there’s a lot to unpack there. And, and the starting point would be, you know, there’s crisis and then there’s, you know, uh, dysregulation, dysregulation be means like I’m having a shitty day, having a panic attack. I’m in experiencing something that’s, you know, causing a lot of discomfort for me. And crisis is I’m on, you know, an overpass in the interstate and I can’t focus on anything but not feeling anymore.

Zak Williams:
Right. And, and, you know, we need to understand the, the difference between the two. Um, but dysregulation can lead to crisis. And the thing is, is like, I, I feel like as a culture, as community, we need to understand when we’re feeling dysregulated and take action, be like, Okay, I haven’t been eating terribly well, I haven’t been sleeping, you know, I’m not engaging in the fitness regimen that I had previously. And when we can start identifying those things where like, okay, we can go from dysregulation back to, you know, a better foundational baseline, for instance, you know, in the context of the military and you shared it, it really well, it’s like there’s stigma around, you know, historically there’s stigma around seeing a therapist or like, from my perspective, when you have people in dysregulation, they should have opportunities to engage in mental hygiene so they don’t get to the point of crisis.

Zak Williams:
Right. I would love to see, and this is a bias I have, I’d love to see every active and inactive service personnel or every active and inactive member of the, of the, the military, um, have a nutritional solution on hand so that they know nutritionally they have a foundation and then understand, hey, what are they doing? Or I don’t need to understand that. I want them to understand that what are they doing over the course of a day, Not like what’s checking that box once a week, once a month? What are they doing over the course of the day that gives them that opportunity to create that foundation? Right? Meaning, hey, we have risk of dysregulation for somebody because they’re not feeling, they’re feeling isolated. They might been, you know, hitting the bottle more than they have historically because of a breakup or, you know, what have you.

Zak Williams:
Um, that that in itself is something that we need to understand. It could be considered a crisis, it could be considered something else. The main thing is, is that the person feeling that needs to understand, hey, I’m, I’m on a path that if there is more momentum associated with it can lead to way, way worse outcomes. And so I can reign myself in, uh, through taking care of myself. Not to say I’m not discounting pharmaceutical solutions or seeing a psychiatrist. That’s all an important part of the mosaic. The thing is though, is that often we hit, we hit, we get to the point where we’re seeking, you know, crisis oriented solutions when if we’re looking at prevention, if we’re looking at mental hygiene, we’re taking care of ourselves in that sense. And so we’re relieving pressure on the system as a whole.

Mike Sarraille:
Dude, I, and I love the fact that you are very particular with the word mental hygiene, which is hygiene, is foundational, is foundational, is brushing your teeth at night or in the morning, or both. Um, but I’m sure you’ve heard this before, Zach, this is great, but I don’t have 20 minutes in my day to, to do breathing exercises or this or this. What, how do you respond to, to that?

Zak Williams:
Do you have five minutes in the day? I mean, this is, this is the reason why I’m calling it mental hygiene is because it’s, it’s very specifically framed in a way where it can be seen as dental hygiene. Yeah. A three minute meditation for me, one of the most effective exercises around it is, by the way, if someone doesn’t have 20 minutes a day for their mental health, but has time to go on a run or go to the gym or go work out, then you know, you can do those exercises driving to the gym, Right. So the, the, there’s generally time, but the main thing is, is I started finding very efficient ways to check in with myself and the like, and, you know, I’ve ultimately started extending how much time I focus on mental hygiene because it’s just so transformational. But the thing was, the most impactful thing in terms of a short exercise was a gratitude list.

Zak Williams:
Transformational for me lists three to four things that, that I care about that are meaningful to me at this point in my time. A lot at this point in time in my life. A lot of it relates to my kids, my wife, the opportunity to be of service and then as an extension beyond that, to have the opportunity to be, you know, a great team member and family member and things like that. And so, yeah, one could say, I don’t have time to, uh, apply mental hygiene rituals for my life, but those mental hygiene rituals are pretty straightforward and, you know, are not meant to replace meals. It’s meant to be things that you can do that you would otherwise you can make that, you know, take a few minutes outta your day watching, you know, Netflix or the, like, it’s not, not requiring seeing a, you know, an individual and talking for an hour. It’s not requiring, you know, the community support methods a 12 step. It’s, it’s, it’s a fraction of that.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah. Yeah. I’ll, I’ll take a less subtle approach than you just did. Bullshit, bullshit <laugh>, you’re

Zak Williams:
Saying

Mike Sarraille:
You don’t have 20 minutes a day to do some small foundational exercises to, And the everyday warrior we’re about three pillars, Physical, mental, which you could also say emotional and spiritual, and you’ve got two work now. A hundred percent. No one’s gonna ever be a hundred percent balanced. That is also bullshit. Um, and there’s a lot of people that talk about achieving balance. I have never in my life achieved balance, but I always continually strive for it. If I pay a little more attention to maybe my spiritual health, maybe my physical health gets a little out of balance. And it’s this, this constant game of trying to balance these, these, these pillars in your life. But, uh, do you know how how many hours the average person spends on social media per day? Take a guess.

Zak Williams:
I I, I do know this actually. It’s, it’s between two and three hours.

Mike Sarraille:
Exactly. So if you can’t find 20 minutes for you rather than, uh, uh, scrolling, uh, aimlessly, uh, then, then the problem is you, uh, and it’s a lack of, uh, of, of discipline in a way or prioritizing what’s important in your life.

Zak Williams:
Yeah. Well, Mike, you bring up a really good point too. And one of the things that I think could be misconstrued around this is it’s not like, you know, we’re not, we’re not, this isn’t gonna make us saints. Yeah. You know, the, the, the thing around this is there’s something in the body, there’s a, there’s a metabolic process called ais, and it’s our capacity to manage stress. And when that overflow, when our, you know, our capacity is filled to manage stress, that’s when we start hitting dysregulation and things like that. Yeah. Right? Yep. And then that ultimately can lead to crisis. So if you’re looking about it, pardon me, if you’re, if you’re thinking about it, really what you’re doing is you’re just creating tools to kind of let off the steam so that you’re not hitting the dysregulation or crisis point. And, and if you can think about it in that, in that, that sense, you’re just building resilience. It’s just a, it’s like your mental health muscle. So I love that. So in, in, in, in essence, it should be seen more as a workout routine as opposed to like some, you know, new age philosophy. It, it, it, there’s a biochemical, there’s a collection of biochemical processes that lead to us feeling burnt out, panic, stressed, anxious, depressed, you know? So there’s a bunch of different ways. Frame.

Mike Sarraille:
And Zach, I know we only have you for a few more minutes, man, You, your life has been defined by service moving forward. Um, I know you’re very passionate one about PI as well as, uh, the, uh, the podcast call for help. Uh, just for the viewers, where can they fall, find, call for help? What is, what is the general focus of that podcast and, and what can you expect to gain from it?

Zak Williams:
Yeah, so Call For Help was a podcast i, I co-produced with Liata Media and I was a special correspondent for, and it’s about 9 88. 9 88 is the Crisis, is the New Crisis Lifeline launched July 16th, 2022. And its purpose is helping navigate people in more of a contextual model of care. It’s not meant to induce a law enforcement response when you’re calling for mental health needs, law enforcement responses for b who should be for law enforcement needs. And in the context of mental health, um, a lot of people are fearful of, of using services and, and lines and things like that cuz they’re worried they’re, you know, you’re gonna have, you’re going to have a, a shock in our response to, you know, a need that requires navigation, <laugh> pointing to the right direction. And so, um, we wanted to help educate people around why this came to be the resourcing behind it, and ultimately where it guides people because you’ve dialed 9 88 now, the goal is, and this, and Congressman Seth Moton, who catalyzed the initiative, who’s a veteran, he had ptsd.

Zak Williams:
He’s someone who cares deeply about the wellbeing of veterans. He was like, I didn’t know where to go when I had PTSD aside from the va. And so, you know, for people who might not, um, have a similar experience as Seth, um, he wanted to create an opportunity for someone to be connected with someone with lived experience, with potentially, uh, you know, a contextual model of treatment and support that ultimately would help people find the care they need. That’s what it was all about. It’s like if you’re a veteran and you’re in crisis, you can call, you don’t need to drive down, you know, to the, to veteran’s affairs in, in your community. You can call, be connected with another veteran, understand what the needs are and where you can go from there. And, you know, the ultimate the ultimate goal is to, you know, provide better support for the system for, for people while relieving and alleviating the burden on the system around people in crisis being, you know, put in all sorts of, of challenging situations, um, because of the, the response that wasn’t a contextual

Mike Sarraille:
Response. So the podcast, Does

Zak Williams:
That make sense?

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah, it does. And and here’s the sad thing. Uh, George, who, who’s been working with your team, we had never heard of 9, 8, 8 until we started doing the research on you, which either is totally embarrassing for us or just we haven’t been watching the right, uh, news venues to, to get the word out there. So, um, for people, nine eighty eight call for help, uh, call for help can be found on all the streaming platforms. Correct.

Zak Williams:
Yeah. And it’s all about learning about what 9 88 is. This is the evolution of a supported service for navigated, uh, mental health support

Mike Sarraille:
In PI talk. Talk to me about PI and sort of the digestibles that you, you’ve come up with. I know you’re, you’re short on time Sure. Where people can find it.

Zak Williams:
Yeah. Well, PI for me was a company I started because my wife turned me on to finding natural solutions for my anxiety, mental wellbeing. Uh, when I was going through a challenging time and decided to stop self-medicating using alcohol. And I had discovered mental health advocacy was very healing for me. But I wanted to focus on more in the private sector for a, around a company that could provide, you know, supporting safe evidence, backed natural solutions for people’s mental wellbeing while we’re advocating for things like mental hygiene. So we launched PIM to the public September, 2020, uh, two year anniversary is coming up. And, and the thing for us is, you know, we’re all about neurotransmitter health, educating people around metabolic mental health and how they can support themselves naturally to provide a foundation and then ultimately learn more about what it is that they need to support themselves. Uh, you like fitness? Yeah. Breath work. Yeah. Mindfulness, et cetera. But the nutrition element is really about providing, uh, products and solutions that you wouldn’t necessarily find in your daily diet. So our first product is a mood chew. We’re launching a men, uh, pardon me, we’re launching a mental hygiene kit, which is four other products, focus on nutrition for mental health. Um, and then, you know, we’re launching an attention focus product to support people around memory focus and attention needs. Um, it’s all about nutrition for mental wellbeing.

Mike Sarraille:
That, that’s awesome. And I couldn’t agree more. Plus, you know, we didn’t have time to get into plant based medicine as it pertains to mental health. But, uh, we’ll, we’ll have to have you back for another, uh, go around. Hey Zach, uh, dude, I’ve enjoyed this conversation. Uh, you’ve educated me. Uh, I know our listeners have learned something. Hey, I, I want to thank you for what you’re doing and the fact that you’ve dedicated your life to helping so many within this, this mental health space. Um, and, you know, God bless your father and his memory impacted so many as you’ll go on to impact, uh, many as well, uh, in his name and your name. So again, thanks for, uh, for joining us for this hour on the, uh, the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast.

Zak Williams:
Mike, thanks so much. Thank you for doing everything you do for the communities that you care

Mike Sarraille:
About. Likewise. And that’s it. That’s all we got. Again, thank you for joining us, and we’ll see you guys next time.

Episode 30

Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 30: Jose Vitor Leme
In episode 30 of the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast, we spoke to Jose Vitor Leme, a Brazilian professional rodeo cowboy and bull rider.
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Episode 31

Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 31: Adrian Brannan
In episode 31 of the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast, we spoke to singer and songwriter Adrian Brannan.
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Episode 32

Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 32: Ezekiel Mitchell
In episode 32 of the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast, we spoke to professional bull rider Ezekiel Mitchell.
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Episode 33

Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 33: Coach J. B. Bickerstaff
Men’s Journal’s Everyday Warrior With Mike Sarraille is a podcast that inspires individuals to live more fulfilling lives by having conversations with
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Episode 34

Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 34: Pete Hegseth
Men’s Journal’s Everyday Warrior With Mike Sarraille is a podcast that inspires individuals to live more fulfilling lives by having conversations with
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