Expert shares first-hand account of mental illness | The Triangle

Expert shares first-hand account of mental illness

Ross Szabo, an award-winning speaker, author, consultant and volunteer, gave a presentation April 16 in Drexel’s Mitchell Auditorium about mental health and how to conquer increased negative emotions.

As a mental health consultant who has experienced mental disorders firsthand, Szabo shared his story about when he and his brother were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and how they coped with it. “My passion for mental health comes from personal experience. I visited my oldest brother in the psychiatric ward of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital when I was 11,” Szabo said.


At the age of 16, Szabo was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, characterized with anger control problems and psychotic features. In his senior year of high school, he was hospitalized for attempting suicide. At the time, Szabo was the president of his class, had played basketball for three years, was a member of a peer helper program, had attended the National Young Leaders Conference, and had a 3.8 GPA.

“But that was my external life — my college resume — not the life that I want to live,” Szabo said. If he were to talk about himself at that time in his life, he would’ve said, “My name is Ross, and I hate myself. I hate myself so much that I’m willing to binge drink, drink and drive, and destroy myself, [be]cause I don’t think anyone should care about me.”

Szabo emphasized the gap between a person’s external and internal life. If the gap gets too big, it can break a person as it almost broke him,

“I did not want to die; I just could not handle living the way I was living anymore.”

After seeking treatment the first time, Szabo started his freshman year at American University but had to take a leave of absence after relapsing.

It took years for Szabo to defeat his mental health challenges. Besides holding himself to a system with healthy habits, the primary key was for him to love himself enough and be willing to change. All those coping mechanisms would not have worked unless he “became more aware of [the way he] dealt with things and how [he could] change it,” he said.

Previously, Szabo explained that many people have the idea that “mental health” means “having a problem.” However, that is not so. “Mental health is how every single person in this room deals with their problem,” Szabo said. “Mental health is a good thing. [It] is how you cope, … how you change [and] how you grow.”

Szabo continued, “Good mental health is something all of you should have. It’s not something that we should stigmatize and judge.” Mental health covers a wide range of issues, including stress, breakups, lack of sleep, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, depression, or even anxiety.

According to Szabo, among college students who suffer from mental illness and seek help for their problems, 80 to 90 percent find treatment helpful and see improvement in their conditions. However, what bothers him is that 66 percent of suffering students do not seek help.

“Why aren’t people seeking help?” Szabo asked. His response was that feeling embarrassed is the biggest barrier that prevents students from talking about their issues.

One of the best ways to fix this problem is to promote the idea of seeking help and change people’s minds. “We are all on the mental health spectrum from the day we were born until the day we die,” Szabo said.

The mental health spectrum covers all related issues starting from the stress of everyday issues and lack of sleep to ADD-ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.

Szabo emphasized that the goal of the spectrum is not only to help people identify where they stand along the spectrum but, more importantly, how they will deal with the issues that arise.

He brought up the two biggest mental health issues that college students face today, to see who can be more stressed out and who gets less sleep. “All these things are the things that you could actively be taking care of. And because your brain is still developing right now, the more sleep you get, the healthier it is for your brain, the healthier for it to grow.”

Szabo brought up mechanisms that people can adopt to address mental health, starting from elevating the issue and normalizing mental health rather than isolating mental illness.

“When it comes to mental health, you can expect to remove stigma and stereotypes in a day, but you can start implementing now,” Szabo said. “Whatever you do now can be small, and it grows, and it becomes a lineage.”

Szabo strongly encouraged the audience to start taking action, to change and impact other people, because according to him, “[This] generation will be the generation that changes mental health.”

Szabo is currently the CEO of Ross Szabo Consulting. He has served in the Peace Corps in Botswana, was the director of outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign for eight years, and co-authored the book “Behind Happy Faces: Taking Charge of Your Mental Health,” according to the Huffington Post.

This event was a CEO LEAD-certified program and was sponsored by Fraternity and Sorority Life, the Multicultural Greek Council, the Counseling Center, the Interfraternity Council, Active Minds, Alpha Chi Rho, Delta Phi Epsilon, Center City Student Life, Student Conduct and Community Standards, and Commuter and Transfer Student Engagement.