The Z-Cares Foundation, an organization that helps people cope with anxiety, has launched a Mental Health Awareness campaign entitled, “What Makes Me Happy Challenge.” Throughout the month of May (and beyond) Z-Cares is requesting that people across the United States—and then wider world—contact the organization to share the things that give them joy. The written descriptions, pictures, and videos sent in will be shared on social media via Z-Cares accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Z-Cares has a goal is to receive videos, in particular, from every state and as many countries as possible. The foundation’s website has a map tracking where participants are from so everyone can follow along. According to the official press release:
Z-Cares really wants to know what makes you happy! Share a video, make a comment or post a photo and tag us on social media (#zcares and #whatmakesmehappy) to spread the happiness! Share your message and this campaign on your social pages and challenge your friends and family to do it too! Make yourself and everyone else smile. It feels good!
Z-Cares was founded by Bay Area residents Steve and Mannie Nimmo who lost their son, Zachary, to suicide when he was only 14. Z-Cares was founded in 2019 by the Nimmo’s and their daughter, Samantha, to help people recognize the causes and symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can be debilitating but are also very treatable. “Sit Down with Sam” is a one-on-one peer chat video series that Z-Cares’ Samantha Nimmo—a college student majoring in psychology—provides. Through the current happiness-inducing campaign, they hope to raise awareness of this organization and its mission.
Steve Nimmo recently discussed the foundation via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): Who thought up the idea for the “What Makes Me Happy Challenge” and what kinds of responses have you gotten so far?
Steve Nimmo (SN): Our family came up with the idea for the #whatmakesmehappy challenge in response to all of the negative news we see every day. We felt very strongly, particularly during Mental Health Awareness Month, that there should be some focus on joy and happiness. We have been so inspired by the responses received to date. We speak a lot about the need to find a connection to help cope with anxiety and depression and that has come through clearly in this challenge. The overwhelming response has revolved around family and friends making people happy. Even in a time when we can’t physically be with them, people are finding ways to connect with their family and friends to help maintain their happiness. We plan to share all of the responses we receive at the end of the campaign in the hopes of helping people find a way to cope. While connection to family and friends has been the top responses, other responses to finding happiness have included: time with pets; exercising, and other physical activity; journaling; as well as finding time to enjoy a sunset.
MM: You started the Z-Cares Foundation after the loss of your son. What are some of the warning signs to depression and anxiety that loved ones of affected people might miss?
SN: This is a question we field almost every time we hold an event and is often combined with recognizing the difference between typical teen behavior and a mental health disorder. The first sign I would look for is dropping activities and not replacing them with new ones. It is typical for a teen to find new interests and stop other interests, but if they are dropping interests and not finding a replacement, that’s a concern. A second sign is prolonged isolation. It can be typical for a teen to isolate from their parents for periods of time, but if they are isolating from everyone this could be a sign it is time to seek help. There are additional signs to look for such as tension, irritability and insomnia, which can all be typical adolescent behavior. If these signs are persistent and have increased in severity and are impacting the teen’s daily life, it may be time to seek professional help.
MM: How did you go about establishing this organization, and how much has this campaign helped raise awareness about it?
SN: We knew almost immediately after losing Zachary that we needed to do something to honor the way he lived. Zachary was the kid who could lighten a mood, make everyone laugh, be an ear to listen, and stand up to a bully for a friend. This is the inspiration we applied in establishing Z-Cares Foundation. We then looked to surround ourselves with passionate people who shared our belief in helping others. The logistical steps in forming a 501(c)(3) was the easy part; the harder part was determining how we would help others. Our tagline, “Standing Up to Anxiety – Let’s Talk About It!”, says it all. We are squarely focused on helping others open up about their mental health and dropping the stigma surrounding this topic. The feedback we have received from events and our online presence has been very positive. I’ll sum it up with one message we received after an event: “Thank you Z-Cares, you just saved our daughter’s life.” That is why we do this.
MM: You offer one-on-one Zoom therapy sessions; have you found those to be beneficial?
SN: Z-Cares Foundation does not offer therapy, as we are not licensed therapists. What we do offer are events and content to help our audience find coping tools to help them. We have a very popular video series titled, “Sit Down with Sam,” where our daughter, Samantha, interviews real people and how they deal with their anxiety. The feedback to this series has been very positive as it centers on teen-to-teen conversations – helping others see that they are not alone. During this pandemic, we are exploring the ability to host online events to help others cope. In addition, we have partnered with organizations such as the Child Mind Institute, which can provide professional help via such meeting services as Zoom.
MM: How has the pandemic and its lockdown affected depressed people?
SN: I will look at this answer from two sides. The first side is the negative effect of the lockdown. As we shared previously, prolonged isolation is a sign to watch out for. During stay-at-home orders, many are isolating without finding ways to stay connected, such as Zoom calls with friends. This continued isolation can intensify their mental health state. The other side of the lockdown is the silver lining. We hear of people finding a much-improved connection to their family, and as we mentioned in our response to this campaign, this has been the number one driver of happiness. The lockdown has forced families together and allowed them to build stronger bonds.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future of Z-Cares and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
SN: Our daughter says it best: “The life that Zachary lived: helping others empowers me every day to spread the message about how important mental health is. No one should live with the weight that anxiety and depression put upon you. It’s our mission at Z-Cares to show people it’s simply okay not to be okay. I am beyond proud and passionate to help break the stigma around mental health. Mental health is beyond important to our overall well-being and not enough people believe this yet.”