I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Shaun Morgan, an authentic mental health advocate and lead singer of the world renowned rock band, Seether. After tragically losing his brother to suicide, Shaun perpetuated change through his art and influence and created Rise Above Fest in memory of his brother. Rise Above has partnered with one of the nation’s first suicide prevention organizations, SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) to come together with the inaugural Exit 111 Festival in Manchester, TN on Friday, Oct 11 – Sun, Oct 13, 2019.
Tell me about how the festival’s partnership with SAVE came to be and what it means to have been able to donate so much money to the organization over the years.
The first year of the Rise Above Fest, we were partnered up with a local New Hampshire chapter of a nationwide charity who seemed to have very little enthusiasm for what we were trying to achieve, so we needed to find someone passionate about the cause. I’m not sure exactly how we were put in touch with SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), but Dr. Dan Reidenberg is the person who really sold me on their organization. He is incredibly dedicated to raising awareness about suicide and is on a tireless crusade to help families in need. We raise a small contribution to SAVE every year, and it feels like we’re doing our part in trying to affect small changes in the world. This subject is very close to my heart, so it makes me very proud that we have really created a solid platform to engage in an extremely tough conversation.
This year, Rise Above has partnered with SAVE and the Exit 111 Festival for an important cause. How is the inaugural Exit 111 helping to make a social impact?
For starters, it is by far the largest festival setting that we have been a part of, which wasn’t focused solely on suicide awareness. This is an incredible opportunity afforded to us by the creators of Exit 111, and we are really grateful that they have been so supportive. There is a global social network that we have access to, which has increased with the addition of our new partners at the festival; I think the impact we can have is tremendous. The major impact will be seen at the festival itself, once people stop by the tent and see what we’re trying to achieve, which will continue to grow through word of mouth and people spreading the message independently.
Your vision for Rise Above was to touch at least one life and possibly make them reconsider the tragic path of suicide. Has any one individual come to you with this sort of success story? What kind of feedback have you received?
I can confidently say that there is a lot of pain out there, with countless stories of suicide, suicide attempts or deep depression. I have heard so many stories, and unfortunately, most of them are not happy ones. It’s incredibly moving to be entrusted with the personal pain that people carry and to be a shoulder for them to lean on. With that being said, there are many beautiful stories full of hope and potential, and those are the moments that help to cement my dedication to helping people. I am very happy to say that there have been a number of people that I have personally spoken to in times of need who have managed to turn a corner and steer their lives in a positive direction. Every story is unique and it’s not easy, but there are some incredible kids out there who I think I have helped. I hope I have given them confidence in themselves to be able to face any challenges head-on and not make the ultimate sacrifice.
You have built Rise Above into a notable organization, how do you define your type of “leadership”? Can you provide a few examples?
I don’t see myself as a leader at all, not in this case. I am somebody who happened to experience suicide and wanted to prevent that from happening to other people. My main goal is to help people know that they are not alone, and that happiness cannot come from social media and the never ending quest for approval from strangers or peers. In fact, my advice is to get rid of those things completely to focus more on things that make you happy and give you a sense of meaning, which for me has always been music. I struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts like a lot of people do, which unfortunately gives me an honest perspective of what people are going through. I see myself as a facilitator more than a leader, because I am merely shining a light on the problem and offering steps towards healing and in so helping to mend myself.
As a mental health advocate, what has been the most meaningful part of your journey or the organization’s journey?
The most meaningful parts are the success stories from people that I meet when they are in a low place, then seeing them a year later and they are in a completely different place mentally. It is a decidedly tough journey that these people are on, and to know that I helped them to make slightly better choices or feel that I am someone who cares about them, it is a very humbling experience. By helping people who are struggling with depression and seeing them flourish, I am achieving my original goal, and then some. The entire driving force behind all of this is to show people that they are inherently important and meaningful, and each success story is another step forward for my own healing process.
For others wanting to help, what are some action steps people can take to follow in your footsteps and speak out for mental health?
It’s very simple to become involved, and it starts with making a decision to change your attitude and your approach to people who are struggling. If you are personally struggling, it is about realizing that it is absolutely okay to ask for help. It is about rebuilding communities through positive interaction, rather than spending your time living out your life online. I think you should reach out to people that appear to be suffering and see if there is a way to help, which quite often is simply through listening without prejudice. At the very center of it all, this whole movement is built around compassion for others, and abandoning old taboos and thought processes to really stare this epidemic in the face and demand it’s surrender. Small actions slowly compound into large ones and that is how you find yourself being part of the movement.
What are five things you wish someone told you when you first founded the Rise Above Festival?
Firstly, I would have liked to be warned about the magnitude of this epidemic and the avalanche of stories that come with it. I make no secret that I am dealing with my own issues, and some days it can take a real emotional toll on me. I am honored to be able to help people but I am also very sensitive to this particular issue so it really moves me and I feel every single person’s pain. That can be tough, but I am in this fight to make a difference. The other four could all be lumped together actually. I learned very quickly that there are people in this business that do not share my passion for the cause and ultimately do not make the best partners for me. We are now partnered with generous and passionate partners in the entire Exit 111 team, and we have surrounded ourselves with management and agents that are equally focused and passionate about the cause.
You have inspired a movement that will continue to help so many people, what does the future look like for Rise Above Fest? What are a few milestones you hope to reach with it?
We hope to build it up to a point where we can do the festival on a global scale and be able to organize satellite festivals across the world. That would be a dream come true, but exponentially better. The focus right now is on rebuilding the brand in Nashville and restoring it to its purest form where helping people trumps everything else. I am very inspired that I have a real say in how the whole operation runs, and I have rediscovered my drive for this so there are big things ahead. Hopefully, we will explore the idea of doing Rise Above festivals across the US too, once we have a few under our belt.
Do you have a favorite life lesson or message that has been especially relevant in your life?
My dad always used to tell me that it’s not what you say to people, but how you say it. That has always been in the back of my mind since I was a kid and I try to remember that when I interact with others. I feel like that is an especially important lesson right now in an age where we are subject to anonymous bullying online and hysterical masses. This is all about rediscovering compassion and abandoning razor-sharp outrage over subjects that won’t matter tomorrow. It would be nice if we, as a society, would take a deep breath before unleashing all the fury of the seven seas on strangers which often leads to very serious and tragic consequences.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
People can keep up to date by checking any of the Seether social media platforms, which will have information about everything band related as well as Rise Above news.