‘Behind Happy Faces’ author to speak at William Woods

Ross Szabo
Ross Szabo

Ross Szabo was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anger control problems and psychotic features when he was 16. Now a mental health advocate, he will speak at William Woods University Sept. 29.

The event, scheduled for 7 p.m. in Dulany Auditorium, is part of the Wisdom for Wellness series and is free and open to the public. His presentation seeks to reduce stigma, empower others to seek help and educate people about mental health.

A Pennsylvania native who now lives in the Los Angeles area, Szabo is the CEO of the Human Power Project. He is an award-winning speaker, writer, trainer and former Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana. He has spoken to more than 1 million students about the importance of mental health and provided a positive example to empower them to seek help.

He received the 2010 Didi Hirsch Removing the Stigma Leadership Award, 2012 Changing Minds Award 51Uv+ZprB1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_and had his advocacy work entered into the Congressional Record. He is the co-author of “Behind Happy Faces; Taking Charge of Your Mental Health” and a blogger for The Huffington Post.

As a senior in high school, Szab was hospitalized after he attempted to commit suicide. A bipolar relapse later that year put his education on hold, but he eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from American University.

At 17, Szabo began speaking about his experience with bipolar disorder. Now, he travels around the country educating high school and college students about the complexities of mental health issues and empowering them to seek help or encourage their friends to seek help.

Mental health challenges are the largest problems facing colleges today. Twenty-five percent of college students experience a mental health disorder. Outside of diagnosable disorders, students are dealing with lack of sleep, stress, and substance abuse.

While 85 percent of colleges have reported drastic increases in the amount of young people seeking mental health counseling, understanding and awareness about the issue are still lacking. During these difficult times, Szabo feels it is imperative for young people to express what they are going through, know that they are not alone, and feel comfortable while seeking help.

Szabo-horizontalDuring the program, he focuses on how students can achieve positive mental health by learning coping mechanisms. He provides insight to help participants understand common mental health conditions and covers warning signs that students can look for in their friends and peers.

Jennifer Burton, who coordinates the Wisdom for Wellness series, explained that the programs provide life skills to students that will serve them later in life.

“The Wisdom for Wellness series was created to improve physical and mental health literacy of our student population. It is the goal of the series to increase the students’ knowledge of health topics so they can be active participants in their health right now and later in their lives.”