Landsberg, Steffler Foundation reach over 1,400 in one day - May 10, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Long-time sports broadcaster and mental health awareness advocate Michael Landsberg spent May 3 speaking to over 1,400 Huron County residents and he says it was time well spent.
Landsberg was brought to Huron County by the Tanner Steffler Foundation, a newly-formed foundation with the goal of improving mental health and addiction services for the youth of Huron County.
The foundation was created by John and Heather Steffler when their 19-year-old son, Tanner, overdosed on drugs after a years-long battle with mental health issues and addiction.
Landsberg was first in Exeter speaking to nearly 1,000 students at South Huron District High School before coming to Blyth where he was the star of an intimate dinner and lecture at Blyth Cowbell Brewing Company, followed by a speaking engagement at Memorial Hall, which was nearly sold out.
In an exclusive interview with The Citizen, Landsberg said that when he was first contacted by the Stefflers he was immediately intrigued by what they were trying to accomplish in Huron County.
As someone who has travelled extensively speaking on mental health, Landsberg said that Huron County, unfortunately, is not alone in lacking mental health and addiction resources.
“I think Huron County would be identical to virtually every county this size in this country,” Landsberg said. “The same issues exist everywhere. One asset a small community has is the sense of community where you can hopefully engender a spirit in a community that’s hopefully a safe place for mental health. You can’t do that in a big city.”
Landsberg reiterated this point during his speech at Memorial Hall. He said that having a sense of community can be an excellent jumping-off point for mental health awareness.
When he speaks in larger city centres like Toronto, he said, he’s not speaking to community. Rather, he said, he’s speaking to a number of people who happen to live in the same area, but there isn’t the same sense of community that can be found in smaller towns like Blyth or Seaforth.
Landsberg said that all three of his Huron County events last week were encouraging, but he was most impressed by the engagement he saw when at the high school.
“I felt like I learned a lot. For me it was time really well spent,” Landsberg said. “You have to pick and choose where you go to speak on this subject and it needs to be time well spent and it was. I loved it. I found the level of openness and honesty of the students in the crowd was unlike anything I’d ever seen.”
Steffler agreed. In an interview with The Citizen, he said that Landsberg spoke to the students for an hour, but he stayed for an additional 90 minutes answering questions and engaging in dialogue with the students.
He said that while the two Blyth events were fantastic, he also found the Exeter event to be the most encouraging. With the foundation’s focus on those aged 12 to 24, engaging 1,000 students within that age bracket is exactly what Steffler hoped the foundation would be capable of doing.
Steffler said that the process of bringing Landsberg to Huron County began last fall when the foundation contacted Landsberg and asked if he’d be interested. He had seen Landsberg speak and felt that his goals aligned perfectly with what the foundation was trying to accomplish.
After realizing he was depressed and subsequently seeking help, Landsberg began to speak publicly about mental health awareness more and more. He and his daughter have since started the Sick Not Weak charity that seeks to end the stigma that mental illness is a weakness in a person, rather than a sickness just like any other physical disease or condition.
As Landsberg has transitioned out of sports broadcasting and has made speaking on mental illness his full-time job, he said he feels like he does more for the world in one day now than he did in his whole career on television.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever done in my life. There’s just a sense of usefulness as a human being,” Landsberg said. “Now, all of a sudden, I find that I can show up at a place like this, do what I enjoy doing and now I get to put it to a good use that’s different from anything else that I’ve ever done.”
He said that putting his broadcasting and public speaking skills to work as an advocate for mental health awareness hasn’t been a difficult transition. He’s using the same skills, he said, but he’s dealing with new subject matter.
“Now, I get to take all the skills that I’ve learned, that I’ve studied, that I’ve benefited from and my experiences and now I get to use them speaking on stage, so it’s not a big leap,” he said. “The subject matter, more than anything is me. I’m sharing my own life experiences and the more I share, the more open I am, the more candid I am, the more effective I am.”
Steffler agreed and felt that the casual and raw approach Landsberg takes to mental health issues would be a perfect way to get the message across in Huron County.
Landsberg doesn’t speak as an expert on mental health or on the clinical side of things, Steffler said, he can only speak about his experiences and encourage others to be open and honest about theirs.
Steffler said that by bringing Landsberg to Huron County, he was able to reach over 1,400 people and speak to them about various aspects of mental health. If Landsberg’s three seminars were able to enlighten those people, or at least get them thinking about mental health in a new way, the impact on the community in just eight hours is massive, he said.
Both Steffler and Landsberg agreed that removing the stigma from the way people think of mental health is the first step in creating a better environment for those affected by mental illness. Until then, Landsberg said, nothing can improve.
At Memorial Hall, he spoke to those in attendance about the stigma, saying that while most people would consider themselves sympathetic to mental health, everything after the word “but” in a person’s statement represents the stigma of which he speaks.
If a person says that he knows a co-worker is suffering from mental illness, but then adds the word “but” to the statement, everything after that word is the stigma that people like Landsberg and Steffler are endeavouring to fight.
Steffler said that the foundation is working with area schools and organizations like Rural Response for Healthy Children and Choices for Change in order to ensure the proper support is in place in area schools and hospitals. While nothing has been finalized yet, that work is underway, Steffler said, and it’s just the beginning of the change they’re hoping to see in Huron County and beyond.
“We’re going to continue to fight for the youth of Huron County,” Steffler said.
For more information on Landsberg’s Sick Not Weak charity, visit sicknotweak.com and for more information on the Tanner Steffler Foundation, look it up on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or visit tannerstefflerfoundation.com.