Mental Health Champions: How Sensei Dave Armstrong of Unlimited Potential Network Academy Is Helping To Promote Mental Wellness
Talk, talk with friends about your problems, thoughts, or just ideas. Talk with mental health experts, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Life Coaches, Doctors, Pastors…just talk and don’t keep everything bottled up inside of you. The number one reason why people end up feeling like they have no one is because they didn’t take it upon themselves to find someone. There are people out there that do care, sometimes it may feel like your friends, family, Social Media…no one understands or cares. But, it’s not true…people care…I care!
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Sensei Dave Armstrong.
Sensei Dave Armstrong is a published Author, Motivational Speaker, Life Coach, at-risk youth expert, 24-year US Air Force Veteran, and the owner of Unlimited Potential Network Academy (https://upna.net), who has a deep passion to help people live life to their unlimited potential. Dave grew up as a product of a broken family, in and out of foster care and youth correction facilities only to lose his only family, his mother when he was only 13 years old. After overcoming all of these obstacles in life and defying his destiny, he decided served humanity by dedicating the last 20+ years towards helping people better their lives and to truly optimize their unlimited potential.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
My mother died when I was 12 years old, leaving me abandoned, no family at all, no aunts, uncles, sisters, or brothers to take care of me. So, I was in and out of dozens of foster homes, group homes, boys’ homes, and juvenile detention centers. But, even before my mother died I was arrested for Armed Robbery at age 11, I was abused by my stepfather, watched my stepdad abuse my mom, daily and in and out of trouble daily. Life for young Dave was extremely difficult. The truth is no young man or young lady should have to endure what I did when I was young. But, I also wouldn’t change a thing. It has made me the man I am, I’ve been able to “use” my past instead of letting my past use me. And, this has lead me to be able to help 1000s of young people and the adults that are working with them.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
Unlimited Potential Network Academy is an organization that I started with one of my best friends Ryan Mitsogiannis here in Greece. We started UPNA because we understood the need for an outlet for people, the need for people to develop the skillsets to tackle life and to overcome obstacles that life throws at us all. Moreover, we developed the Mentoring and Parenting Teens Summit, which we hold every quarter. The summit is 100% free and a way for Parents and Mentors to come and learn from leading experts in the field of helping teens.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
There’s a need…an extreme need for us to learn how to connect with teenagers. The CDC reported that in 2020 and 2021 there has been a 50% increase of attempted suicides amongst our teens. This is our fault, adults! I know, no one likes to feel blamed but, the truth is the truth. We are not giving our teens what they need and it’s obvious. But, we’re operating from an outdated “Parenting Handbook” and we absolutely must seek ways to expand our mindset, knowledge, and abilities to impact our teens. That’s why I put this event on, and dedicate so much time and resources into making sure it’s a success. It’s a MUST that we educate ourselves in order to save our kid’s lives.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
Look, I’m not wired the same as most people. I see this daily, most of the people I coach people give up or don’t even start. I understand why, it’s hard, scary, we don’t feel adequate, or even sometimes we don’t feel like we are the “right one” to step up and manifest our dreams. Growing up the way I did and being able to overcome so much, I don’t have this “self-doubt” or lack of manifesting what I want. If I truly desire to do it, I do…THE END, no excuses I just start learning how to do it, surrounding myself with the right like-minded people, and GO…GO…GO. Why, because my “Why” is bigger than my fears, self-doubt, or even other’s criticism.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I had a Martial Arts Mentoring Program for at-risk youth. One of my mentees had gotten kicked out of the apartment he was living in and was going to be sleeping on the street. I felt in my heart that I should do something about this so, I decided to let him stay with me for a while. Well…one day, he comes downstairs and says “Sensei Dave, I’m going to hike up into the mountains and build a cabin and live off of the land.” I was so confused, I went on to have a conversation with him, telling him he didn’t need to do that, and that things were going to be ok, and that I was in his corner. He persisted in this “moving to the mountains” thing. But, I kinda dismissed it…I didn’t dismiss him but, I just thought he was “just talking.” Well, a long story short, he leaves the house and a few hours later the police call me and tells me that he’s in the hospital, but, he’s in the Mental Ward of the hospital. I immediately go to the hospital and a therapist meets me, she proceeds to tell me that the police picked him up walking totally naked down a major street in the snow. And, she diagnosed him with Schizophrenia. I was totally shocked! I had no clue, no idea that he was actually suffering a mental breakdown right before my eyes. And I didn’t help him the best I could, not because I didn’t care…just because I didn’t know.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I write about the two people that latterly saved my life in my book “Why Me” My Fight For Life. Sensei Otto Johnson my first martial arts instructor and surrogate father and my Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA or GAL) Mr. Ron Barnick. They both took a profound interest in young Dave and they both really stepped in, giving me the love, guidance, and compassion that I needed. Through Sensei Otto I found the love of martial arts and went on to own and operate several martial arts schools and to impact thousands of people through the martial arts. With Ron, I was inspired to join the Air Force and to travel the world. Ron was a U.S. Air Force Pilot and had traveled the world. I joined the U.S. Air Force and served 24 amazing years. They both had the tools and the passion to impact my life and without them both I wouldn’t have been able to impact so many others.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
It’s strange, I’ve lived all around the world and have traveled extensively, and far as I can see this stigma transcends throw-out the world. I really don’t have an answer other than I think we all think we can tackle life alone, we’re actually programmed to just “deal with it” and not to seek help. And I think it’s getting worse especially for our youth. We all have to accept that we don’t know everything, we must see life objectively and be open to new things, new experiences, and new ideas. When we shift our thinking from subjective closed-minded thoughts to objective open-mindedness we can then say, I don’t know how to deal with this, let me seek some help.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
As you mentioned, it’s a “stigma” and only when we break this stigma will we be able to see this 44 million number drastically come down. What can we do: 1. Accept that we don’t know everything and don’t need to tackle everything alone. 2. Talk more openly about what we are going through. 3. Get involved, look for signs, and care. When I ask someone “how’s everything today” (and I start EVERY conversation with that question) I actually care and want to know how they are. Ask your friends, family, coworkers, people standing in line with you at Starbucks how they are, and listen to them.
What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1. Meditate, if you think about it except while sleeping our minds are constantly going, thinking, processing, so, meditation allows me to be awake (conscious) but, clear and free of thought. I start my day with just a quick 10 to 20 minutes of meditation and it feels good. I’m not meditating to destress, or to relax…it’s just a nice way to start my day.
2. Breathing, deep breathing is so good for a person. If you think about it most of us don’t breathe deeply, inhaling that good oxygen and deeply exhaling that carbon dioxide. It’s exercise for our lungs. I start my day by meditating and then doing a few minutes of deep breathing.
3. Stretching, this is the third thing I do as part of my morning routine. If you think about it, we’ve been laying in a bed for a few hours, only to get up and sit in a car for 30 mins or longer, then we sit at a desk or go do something physical for the next 8 hours or so. When do we stretch those muscles and ligaments out and move those joints around?
4. Exercise, daily exercise is important and plays so many roles in our mental and physical health. I want to talk about this for a second. See, a lot of people don’t exercise and by not doing so, you’re prone to more injures and health risks. So, inevitably you’re physical health will suffer, thus having a huge impact on your mental health. So, by taking care of your physical health you’re actually improving your mental health. So, this should be a non-negotiable for everyone.
5. Talk, talk with friends about your problems, thoughts, or just ideas. Talk with mental health experts, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Life Coaches, Doctors, Pastors…just talk and don’t keep everything bottled up inside of you. The number one reason why people end up feeling like they have no one is because they didn’t take it upon themselves to find someone. There are people out there that do care, sometimes it may feel like your friends, family, Social Media…no one understands or cares. But, it’s not true…people care…I care!
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I listen to or watch a couple of shows almost every day.
The Ed Mylett show as well as Impact Theory. Both shows bring on guests (I hope to be one, one day) that have done so much in their lives. The guests are truly inspiring to me and on the days that I feel a little less inspired to do what I do (help the world), I draw a little inspiration from those two shows. I also learn so much from both shows, the experience and quality of the conversations had are amazing.
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I see a problem with “human nature” we are always thinking about ourselves. Me…Me…Me, all day, every interaction it’s all about me. What if we all started thinking about and trying to help others? We would have to think about ourselves much less because someone else is also looking out for us, trying to help us. I know…it may be a lofty concept but, this utopia can exist. But, we all can start by just saying today, just today I’m not going to try to get myself ahead, I’m going to try to bring someone else up. One kind gesture can latterly change someone’s life.
How can our readers follow you online?
Consider supporting the Mentoring and Parenting Teens Summit: www.SummitEvents.world
Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/SenseiDaveArm
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Mental Health Champions: How Sensei Dave Armstrong of Unlimited Potential Network Academy Is… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.