Zak Williams revealed he became a mental health advocate due to the trauma and loss he experienced after his dad, Robin Williams, died by suicide.
Content warning: This story contains mentions of suicide.
Nearly six years after the world lost Robin Williams, his son Zak is making sure to keep his memory alive. Williams' eldest son Zak, 37, told PEOPLE during an interview that he is involved with a mental health organization known as Inseparable. According to ABC6, Zak is an advisor for the national organization focused on creating a 'pragmatic mental health policy'. It is aimed at introducing a political change that makes sure Americans are granted access to mental health care, irrespective of where they are, amid the pandemic. Inseparable "is an organization supporting policy" for mental health programs, he explained.
"The coronavirus pandemic has brought light to a parallel pandemic that's happening," says Zak. "We are experiencing from it as a direct result of the pandemic... a shared trauma that's becoming quite acute as a result of everything that people have been through both in terms of the devastating economic effects, the isolation and a lot of circumstances from communities." Zak Williams is also on the board of Bring Change to Mind, a nonprofit by Glenn Close. It works to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. Zak revealed that he became a mental health advocate after his father died by suicide in 2014.
"My becoming a mental health advocate stemmed from the trauma and loss I experienced after my Dad died by suicide," he said. "I experienced a serious low point in my life. I felt completely emotionally dysregulated and was experiencing PTSD. I was self-medicating to the point where I wanted to not feel anything. I found that the most healing experience for me was committing to service around causes." Robin Williams was 63 and suffering from Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) when he died in August 2014. "There's certainly a collective trauma that stems from everything that's going on and I would like to think that maybe, for some, we can find opportunities for post-traumatic growth," he said.
"There's a lot to do. I see that there's tailwind relating to reducing the stigma associated with mental health." He also added that self-care plays a vital role in mental health. "If you don't prioritize yourself, to fill your cup personally, then you can feel very drained. I'm very focused on talk therapy, engaging in community support groups, I personally stay away from drugs and alcohol, that's been very helpful for me, especially during this time. It's enabled me to deal with feelings of anxiety and depression head-on." He then revealed how he prioritizes himself for his fiancée Olivia June and their 1-year-old son McLaurin Clement, whom they call Mickey.
"I stay away from drugs and alcohol, I commit to support groups," he says. "One thing I found very healing for me through my experience has been service and commitment to service work specifically around mental health and mental health support organizations. Eating well, committing to a healthy lifestyle. Things that I need in my weekly and daily regimen to better support my wellbeing." In a way, his family is also his source of strength, he added. He hopes that his son McLaurin—which is Zak's middle name—gets to grow up in a world more supportive of mental illness. "As a dad, I hope my son can grow up in a stigma-free world," said Zak.
"When it comes to sharing and being vulnerable, I think we need to shift our mindset from thinking about it as a weakness, to thinking about it as a strength." He adds, "We need to come out of this coronavirus pandemic with a growth-oriented mindset, around supporting others in our communities to create a more connected, happier world." Zak also mentioned that he was looking forward to spending some time with Mickey on Father's Day, adding that he will also honor his late father then along with his siblings, sister Zelda, 30, and brother, Cody, 28.
"Time flies," Zak said, noting that they had celebrated six holiday seasons without their father. "I talked to my siblings to share stories and thoughts and photos that we like and appreciate." He added that the three of them are in their respective homes, practicing social distancing. "It will be nice to be able to speak with my brother and sister around remembering dad. It's certainly an opportunity to be introspective as we'll be together, apart." He added, "The key thing for us during this upcoming Father's Day is just to take some quiet time to reflect as a family around all the things that we're grateful for around him and who he was."