Robin Williams

Robin Williams son Zak stopped in Duluth on his journey to better mental health

The death of beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams in 2014 left the world shocked and saddened, and renewed discussions surrounding mental health. Since his father’s death, Zak Williams has become a passionate advocate for destigmatizing mental health, and helping people find ways to improve their own mental health.

“When Rick reached out to me and shared that they were looking for collaborators for the HopeX Initiative and the Miller-Dwan Foundation, I got really excited,” said Williams. “The more I learned about the Miller-Dawn Foundation, the more I understood that it’s a pioneer. There are not enough providers to support our nation in crisis, let alone in Minnesota. So really what it comes down to is establishing new, unique ways to reach people with clinical, potentially transformative outcomes.”

Williams’ new venture with Miller-Dwan Foundation; HopeX, aims to do just that. HopeX will be the most significant fundraising effort in the foundation’s history according to Miller-Dwan. HopeX is; “a new multi-phase initiative that will transform the way mental healthcare is provided right here in the Twin Ports,” according to a press release issued by the foundation.

Just under 30% of adults in Minnesota experience symptoms of anxiety or depression each year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And of those adults, 28% reported needing counseling or therapy but not being able to access it.

“Even prior to the pandemic, there was a mental health crisis,” said Miller-Dwan Foudation President Traci Marciniak. It has been very hard for people to receive care in a timely fashion, and that certainly isn’t a criticism of any health system or provider. It’s just the fact that the need has always outweighed the number of available staff to provide the care.

HopeX, Williams’ partnership with the Miller-Dwan Foundation hopes to address the lack of immediately available mental healthcare.

“What we’re trying to do, is to bring a program to Duluth that allows us to expand the workforce in a new and different way,” said Marciniak. “And it’s really about doing some boots on the ground training of professional peers to be able to provide a level of service that doesn’t currently exist and that also is more accessible for people because we’d be bringing the care to them, versus having those people come to a hospital or to a clinic for care.”

Those professional peers could be anyone from the community, but those who are well-known, and well respected may be able to do the most good.

“It is everybody. It could be you,” said Marciniak. “If you wanted to become a trained provider, then we would take you through the training, which is, you know, it’s intensive, but it provides you with the skills to be able to work with people in your own community and to get them back to where they need to be.”

Williams said he will return to Duluth in the future, to continue his work with the Miller-Dwan Foundation on HopeX.

“It just fills my heart with joy to be able to hear how people are healing others,” said Williams. “And then in turn, healing themselves through that process. I’m finding that a lot of people are in the mental health space focus on their personal healing journeys.”

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