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Sam Webb & Casey Lyons

L-R: Casey Lyons and Sam Webb (image courtesy of Luke Marsden)
L-R: Casey Lyons and Sam Webb (image courtesy of Luke Marsden)

In the 21st Century, mental health has become as important as physical health – and rightly so! Taking care of not only our own mental health but checking in on others can sometime’s make a world of difference. It’s organisations like LIVIN, a Gold Coast-based and non-profit mental health organisation, that are helping to destigmatise mental health and promoting the message that #itaintweaktospeak.  We were fortunate enough to ask a few questions to founders Sam Webb & Casey Lyons about their mission and how we can all improve our own and other’s mental health through early intervention and prevention initiatives.

How long have you been Gold Coast locals?
S: I was born in Sydney and grew up on the Gold Coast in Burleigh Heads. I relocated to Sydney, Bondi Beach in 2014 and have since moved to LA – where I now live.
C: 32 years, which is my whole life.

What do you both love the most about the Gold Coast?
S: I miss the beaches on the Gold Coast. Growing up on the Gold Coast I use to surf 3 times a day and looking back now, that is definitely something I took a little for granted.
C: I think it is a great mix of everything; the beach, work, great food and weather, and the hinterland isn’t too far away at all.

Sam Webb presenting to an audience (image supplied)
Sam Webb presenting to an audience (image supplied)

Tell us about how LIVIN came about.
S: LIVIN started in 2013 after we lost a good friend Dwayne Lally to suicide. Dwayne’s death was a wake-up moment for me at a time of my life when I was also at my lowest point. Dwayne’s death was felt by an unquantifiable amount of people, from so many walks of life, and we soon realized that there was a lot of people who struggled in silence with their mental health similar to Dwayne. For Dwayne’s wake, we created and sold t-shirts with Dwayne’s’ portrait on it along with one of his favorite lyrics from a song. Our intentions were to sell the t-shirts to raise some money to give to Dwayne’s family to support some of the financial burden around funeral costs. Dwayne’s mum and dad told us to keep the money and do something great with it. So, we did. And that is where LIVIN started. From very humble beginnings in my kitchen in Burleigh, to a spare room at my next home to then Casey’s garage, LIVIN started growing quicker than we expected all thanks to the support we garnered from so many young people who could relate with Dwayne’s story and breaking the stigma around mental health.

Why is mental health so important?
S: I believe that without good mental health, the rest suffers in some way. Our life goals, ambitions, passions, hobbies, relationships you name it, begins and ends with mental health. I am not saying that if you have poor mental health today you won’t achieve your desires, but I do believe that staying mentally healthy and prioritizing your mental health needs will serve you extremely well in your life both personally and professionally.
C: While we don’t all have mental ill-health, we ALL have mental health. Mental health is relevant to absolutely everyone! I can’t think of a more compelling reason to shine a spotlight on any topic.

LIVIN apparel range (image supplied)
LIVIN apparel range (image supplied)

How is LIVIN helping to change the stigma surrounding Mental Health?
S: LIVIN’s vision is to break the stigma around mental health through early intervention and prevention. We do this through our 3 core pillars.
1) LIVINWell- We deliver our LIVINWell in School program to students all around the country free of charge. Our program has been specifically designed to educate students on a range of issues related to mental health, with an emphasis on breaking the stigma of mental health, enhancing self-efficacy (both helping themselves and helping others) and encouraging help-seeking behaviour. It is delivered by experienced, highly relatable and carefully selected Facilitators that have a blend of lived experience and mental health training.L
2) LIVINWear- We sell streetwear and apparel. Think of this as a walking billboard spreading positive messages through collections to create conversations and raise awareness around mental health. Wearing a t-shirt, hoodie or hat can create on average 20 conversations around mental health that could be life-changing.
3) LIVINLife- Through our online social media community, fundraising and events, we are creating a cohesive, connected ecosystem that engages with the lifestyle of LIVIN which is why LIVIN has been the success it has been. Without our community, none of this would be possible. So thank you to everyone who’s helped in some kind of way.

What are some ways we can take care of our own mental health?
S: Practicing self-care. Focus on the things that you enjoy doing. That may be exercise, drawing, painting or journaling. Do them often and set time aside for them. Speaking about how you are feeling and educating others that may not be aware of what you may be going through can be beneficial. Remember, people are not mind readers. Above all, It Ain’t Weak to Speak. Reach out if you need some help and treat yourself like a good friend.
C: Self-care is my number one tip. Self-care is certainly not selfish and it doesn’t need to be something extravagant, 10-15 minutes each day is a great starting point. What does self-care look like? Well, that is completely up to the individual but typically it is doing what makes you happy; things that help you to relax, unwind, de-stress. Exercise is great for me and exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous either, it needs to be something that you can sustain.

Sam speaking at a conference (image supplied)
Sam speaking at a conference (image supplied)

What are some signs of depression people should look out for?
C: There are many different signs we can look for – noticeable changes in appearance, no longer enjoying things you used to enjoy, low energy and motivation, feeling like everything is too hard. However, the one I like to share is, any change in what would be typical behaviour for yourself or someone you know that has lasted for longer than two weeks is a good indication to explore what is going on.

How can we start the conversation with someone we may see is having a difficult time?
C: This is generally the part that people find the hardest to do, I understand this but it doesn’t need to be. People think that by starting a conversation it could encourage the person to do something terrible or make them worse. This is not the case, there is research that suggests that it is very hard to say the wrong thing if our intention is pure. I like to start the conversation by asking the person how they are going. I am usually met with the throw-away “yeah, good thanks”. I then say “no, how are you really going”? It can be helpful to communicate some of the things you’ve noticed that have prompted some concern. E.g., I have noticed x y z lately and you don’t seem yourself, is there anything I can help you with? After you have kick-started a conversation the best thing you can do to help someone is to listen and listen without harsh or critical judgment.

What are your Gold Coast favourites…
Café:
S: Commune Cafe
C: Espresso Moto Palm Beach
Coffee spot:
S: Didn’t drink coffee until 32 years of age and that was in LA
C: Flying Bean Beechmont
Restaurant:
S: Bonita Bonita
C: Labart, Burgster, Wahoos, Harry’s or Ginger Indian – it really depends on the mood.
Bar or pub for a drink:
S: Ze Pickle
C: Lockwood

How do you both choose to spend your weekends?
S: Spending time with my Fiancé Nadia, friends, something outdoors like running or hiking for sure and then plenty of movies. I love a good film with some popcorn! It’s the perfect way to relax.
C: With the family down at Talle Creek, eating food at one of the above restaurants, mowing my lawns, or if I’m lucky, a bit of golf.

LIVIN apparel range (image supplied)
LIVIN apparel range (image supplied)

Ben Hannant

Ben Hannant in the Hit90.9 studio (image supplied)
Ben Hannant in the Hit90.9 studio (image supplied)

We have to be upfront, and ask you a very important question… are you a Queenslander or are you a Queenslanderrrrr? If your answer is the later, then read on. Because we were fortunate enough to get to know Queensland footy legend and radio personality, Ben Hannant. And for those who don’t know, prior to his time on the breakfast show on Bianca, Dan & Ben Gold Coast’s Hit 90.9, he represented the QLD side of State of Origin on more than one occasion and even managed to obtain two tries during his Origin career. So ahead of Game 2 and 3 of the 2021 Origin series, we got to know Ben a little better.

How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I have lived on the Gold Coast for over 30 years. The Gold Coast is home to me, born and bred. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!

Tell us a bit about your career to date.
I first found my love of football while in high school at Currumbin High, my first club was at Burleigh Bears as a junior. I then dedicated over 15 years of my life to professional football. I signed up to football in 2001, straight out of high school and joined the Brisbane Broncos. I spent nine years with the Broncos, two years with the Sydney Roosters, two years at Canterbury Bulldogs and my final two professional years I was with the North Queensland Cowboys. During my professional career, I won two premierships, played and won five Origin Series. I played six tests representing Australia, four Nations Champions and two World Club Challenges. I was awarded Dally M Prop Of The Year 2009. When I retired from football, I made my way back home to take on a new challenge of radio on the Gold Coast. I joined the breakfast team at Hit90.9 alongside Dan Anstey and Heather Maltman in 2017 and I’ve been on the airwaves ever since!

Ben Hannant with the State of Origin trophy after the series win (image supplied)
Ben Hannant with the State of Origin trophy after the series win (image supplied)

What’s the best thing about working alongside Bianca Dye & Dan Anstey?
Having fun! There’s not a dull moment in the studio with those two. Dan’s always got a one-liner and Bee’s got no filter! Every day is interesting, we get to speak to the Gold Coast every morning and we’re always laughing. I’m so lucky to call it ‘work’.

What did you enjoy the most about playing footy?
Friendships, life skills and always pushing myself to be better. I had to learn to enjoy feeling comfortable being uncomfortable. It has shaped me to be the man, husband and father I am today.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Definitely marrying my wife, Emma and building a life and family together. 

What do you love the most about the Gold Coast?
The thing I love the most about the Gold Coast – everything is at your disposal. You’ve got the beaches, the hinterland, the river, great restaurants and nightlife. There is no better place to live and raise a family.

Where will you be watching the next two games of Origin 2021?
Game 2, I’ll be in Brisbane watching the action live! For Game 3, I’ll either be at home with the family or securing my seat at the Sydney Stadium!

Bianca, Dan & Ben of Hit90.9 (image supplied)
Bianca, Dan & Ben of Hit90.9 (image supplied)

Honestly, who do you think is going to win the State of Origin this year?
Queensland, of course! You won’t hear me say anything different. EVER.

What are your Gold Coast favourites…
Café: No Name Lane in Broadbeach is a favourite and it’s right across the road from the studio!
Coffee spot: I’ve never had a coffee! But I love a hot choccie from Max Brenner in Robina.
Restaurant: Jimmy Wah’s in Burleigh, great food at the best location.
Bar or pub for a drink: Definitely The Sporting Globe in Robina!
How do you choose to spend your weekends? You would find me fishing, surfing, playing football, horse riding, mountain bike riding – anything the kids are up for! With eight kids, we normally do all of these activities in one day.

Ben Hannant playing for the Broncos (image supplied)
Ben Hannant playing for the Broncos (image supplied)

Perry Cross AM

Perry Cross AM (image supplied)

Perry Cross AM is one Gold Coast local you’re going to want to hear about. Having sustained a severe spinal cord injury leaving Perry a C2 ventilated quadriplegic from a rugby union tackle, meaning he would never walk, feel or breathe on his own again (at age 19), Perry has made it his mission to find a cure for paralysis.

We sat down for a chat with Perry about the Spinal Cord Injury Project and SIP Week, a time when we can all help to raise money for Perry and over 15,000 other Australians with spinal injuries.

What do you love most about living on the Gold Coast?
The beautiful climate and relaxed lifestyle.

Tell us how the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation came about?
I started the Foundation out of necessity really – in pursuit of a cure for paralysis.

You’ve made it your mission to find a cure for paralysis, why is this so important to you?
It is my life’s ambition to cure paralysis for the thousands of people across the globe who desperately need a cure.

You’re also a motivational speaker, what do you most want to share with people?
Focus on what you can do, what you’ve got and where you are going, not what you’ve lost, what you don’t have or where you’ve been. Everything really is possible.

Perry Cross AM (image supplied)

Can you talk to us a bit about the prevalence of spinal cord injuries?
In Australia one person sustains a spinal cord injury every day and there are currently 15,000 Australians living with a spinal cord injury.

  • Men account for 80% of injuries.
  • The main cause for injuries is vehicle accidents.
  • Aside from the devastating personal trauma, the cost to our society to care for spinal injured people is $2 billion a year.
  • Without an effective cure, the emotional and financial costs to individuals, their families and to our community are life-long.

Talk to us about the research you’ve been doing and the advances you’ve made?
There is no cure for paralysis but with the support of generous donors and funding partners, The Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation has helped to raise over $12 million which has been invested into ground-breaking Australian research focused on finding a cure. We have made great progress with a world first treatment that involves the transplantation of the patient’s own olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) from the nose into the spinal cord to reform connections. This experimental treatment has shown promising functional outcomes. Our goal is to conduct a Human Clinical Trial and restore movement in people suffering with paralysis.

What is the Spinal Cord Injury Project (SIP)?
This ground-breaking, world first project was pioneered by 2017 Australian of the Year, Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim and involves the transplantation of the patient’s own olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) from the nose into the spinal cord. The SIP team is reinventing and rethinking how cells can grow leading to the creation of new cell products. By combining advanced cell purification techniques and engineering, the team is designing three-dimensional nerve bridges that will help regenerate the spinal cord. This approach has recently been successfully tested in pre-clinical models and has shown promising functional outcomes. This incredible approach has the potential to result in the first widely available treatment for spinal cord injury and it is being developed here in Queensland, Australia!

Talk to us about SIP Week, how can we get involved?
SIP Week challenges everyone to drink all their beverages through a straw, just like I have to because of paralysis. You don’t have to run a marathon, or even break a sweat, just drink all your beverages through a straw and raise funds from November 2nd to 8th. Sign up at sipweek.com

What do you most hope for in the near future?
People will no longer need to live with paralysis and Wallabies win the Bledisloe Cup.

Tell us your favourites on the Coast:
Restaurant for dinner: Balboa Italian Palm Beach
Coffee spot: Merlo Brickworks
Café for breakfast: Sage Broadbeach
How does your weekend usually look: Surf Club for lunch with friends and catch up with family

Hetty Johnston AM

Hetty Johnston AM, Bravehearts (Image supplied)

She’s the Australian founder of not-for-profit organisation Bravehearts and one of the most incredibly dedicated and hard working Gold Coasters around. We sat down for a chat with Hetty Johnston AM about the protection of Australian children from child sexual assault and how we can contribute to White Balloon Day this Friday 11th September.

How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
My parents have been living on the Gold Coast forever and we’ve had the Bravehearts office on the Gold Coast for 12 years now. The Gold Coast City Council donated the land for our Bravehearts office and the support from our community has been amazing, with local construction companies building our office and donating everything down to the lightbulbs and grass.

What do you love most about living here?
I love the lifestyle on the Gold Coast, everything from the people to the beaches, hinterland and rainforests being just minutes away from each other. We are so lucky to live here in a place where everything is happening, we have great communities and breathtaking locations.

You’re the founder of Bravehearts, can you tell us about what the organisation does?
We work to protect the children of Australia from child sexual assault and exploitation, breaking the silence and advocating for the safety of our children. We’ve brought about countless law reforms across the country, we played a big role in bringing about the federal royal commission and we continue to fight every day for child protection – we have been approached by almost every state on their legislation. We also provide a range of services for all Australians, providing counselling and support for victims and their families, education and training for children and professionals, as well as completing in-depth research to support lobbying and legislative reform initiatives and promote the safety and protection of our children and communities through an evidence-based approach. We do all of this with a hugely talented team but a financially restricted organisation – everyone is working the job of two people. We certainly provide more bang for your buck here, the stuff we produce astounds me! We are all so dedicated to the issue and there is so much we’ve been able to accomplish, it’s so incredibly inspiring to work with a team that is 100% dedicated to what we do.  We’re not a money-making machine, every dollar and cent that we receive is then spent back on protecting and educating children.

How did you get into this incredible work?
I founded Bravehearts in 1997 to start a conversation about child sexual assault and exploitation because when I began, the words ‘child sexual assault’ weren’t used in public. Our daughter was sexually assaulted as a child, moving me to change the way child sexual assault was not spoken about in the community. More so, we believed the silence and suppression perpetuated further harm to these children, being harmed is enough yet the isolation from the community was only worsening their trauma.

There’s actually no way I thought I’d be in this job, I was working in large corporate roles and politics (keeping parties honest) before this, then I quit everything I was involved in after my daughter came forward with her disclosure to start Bravehearts. It’s been my family’s life and something that we are all very proud of.

White Balloon Day, Bravehearts (Image supplied)

White Balloon Day Friday 11th September, can you tell us what it’s about?
This White Balloon Day we are encouraging the community to raise funds and awareness by wearing white and starting the conversation and this year is taking place as a 24-hour giving day, where the community can make donations to help Australian kids and every dollar is matched by generous sponsors. White Balloon Day is about breaking the silence on child sexual assault and that was the main call at the start, since then we’ve seen a lot more conversation generated. However, since the Royal Commission complacency has set in and that’s something we can’t afford with more than 1 in 5 Aussie children experiencing sexual assault or exploitation before their 18th birthday. That means 1 in 5 children in every classroom, daycare, basketball team, football team, so it’s something that we are all impacted by.

Raising awareness and funds is key, you can’t stop something unless you’re aware of it. From the political agenda, community and government we all need to be aware to help make Australia the safest place in the world to raise a child.

How has the current state of the world increased the risks for children?
The current situation is isolating victims with their perpetrators, as 80-90% of perpetrators are known and trusted by their victims and their families. It’s something that’s difficult to avoid as we isolate children from their schools and friends so they don’t have anyone to confide in, so we need to be particularly aware through these tough time. Children are being horrifically harmed and there’s no other way to stop it. Additionally, offenders are exploring other methods, which is why we’ve seen a massive explosion of online content of child sexual assault and exploitation. It breaks my heart and that’s why White Balloon Day is working so hard. Particularly in Victoria, people need to see everyone wearing white and advocating for our children to enact change. It’s a fight to help the children and parents, we have to say the things people don’t want to say and protect the best interests of our children.

Can you share some of the statistics about child abuse in Australia?
Over 1 in 5 children in Australia experience child sexual assault or abuse before their 18th birthday and despite all of the hard work and increasing awareness, the offenders are winning the battle because there are still not enough resources. Importantly, when 98% of children disclose their sexual assault or exploitation they don’t lie, so if a child discloses to you it can’t be dismissed and it needs to be taken seriously by everyone from families to judges and Governments. We can’t ignore them! 

What can we do to support Bravehearts and White Balloon Day?
You can support us this White Balloon Day by simply wearing white to start a conversation, breaking the silence encircling child sexual assault and exploitation, and donating online at WhiteBalloonDay.org.au. You can even simply make it your work’s charity of choice, choose children. And don’t forget, this Friday on White Balloon Day all donations will be matched dollar for dollar by our corporate sponsors. 

The work you do would be very emotionally charged, how do you switch off?
I haven’t found my off button yet, I recently found the pause button but have since seemed to have lost it. When you see the volume and intensity of this issue, it’s very difficult to step away. But when I’m at home, I’ll turn on some music and head straight into the kitchen to start cooking to switch off – good music, good friends and good food really help!

Tell us your personal favourites on the Coast:
Cafe for breakfast: Anchor Buoy
Coffee spot: Degani have great coffee
Restaurant for dinner: George’s Paragon but I’m normally at home cooking for dinner and I love heading to Arundel Tavern for a lunch
How does your weekend usually look: I have my mother living at home who’s 90 years old, so I spend as much time with her as I can! I spend most of the time cooking and mucking around in the kitchen with food from my veggie patch. I love hanging out with my friends and family, my husband and I are very social, so we always have a lot of people coming over. We really enjoy our home, family, animals – we have a few cows, three dogs and I love feeding the birds.

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