iOS app Android app

Ross Szabo
Ross Szabo is CEO of the Human Power Project. He is an award winning speaker, author, consultant and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Ross was Director of Outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign for 8 years and is the co-author of Behind Happy Faces; Taking Charge of Your Mental Health. Ross has spoken to over one million people about mental health and his experiences with bipolar disorder. He helped create the first-ever youth mental health speakers’ bureau in the country called The Heard. His pioneering efforts in the mental health field have resulted in him receiving the 2012 Changing Minds Award and the 2010 Didi Hirsch Removing the Stigma Leadership Award. He also had his advocacy work entered into the Congressional Record by Patrick Kennedy. Ross is currently a speaker for CAMPUSPEAK.

Entries by Ross Szabo

Mental Health: The Thin Line Between Coping and Catastrophe

(2) Comments | Posted October 24, 2014 | 4:53 PM

There's a huge emphasis placed on how we cope with stress, anxiety and mental health challenges in our lives. Everyone has a different way of determining the difference between release and reinforcement. I've tried a lot of options to cope with my diagnosis of bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features. Here are some of them.

Music as a Coping Mechanism

Music is a great way to express our emotions. Our favorite songs register in the deepest parts of our brains. Just about everyone has their go to song when they're happy, sad, want to chill or turn up. Picture this. It's the summer of 2000, Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" is blasting and a really angry 21-year-old has his fists balled up, screaming the lyrics. Sounds appropriate, right? That was me. I have to say, it's slightly more embarrassing to admit to my music tastes, than it is to talk publicly about having a mental health disorder. Still, it was my way of coping at the time.

There were times when I'd release all of my anger in the music. I'd scream, mosh or jump around and let everything out. That release was great, because I felt like I had found understanding and a safe way to get my anger out. There were also times when the music would reinforce my anger and build it to places where it was uncontrollable. In those moments I'd punch walls, fight people or act out in other extreme ways. Knowing that line between release and reinforcement is really important. People can experience this with sad songs, songs that elicit strong emotions or take your existing emotions to a new, unhealthy level.

Talking as a Coping Mechanism

One of the largest messages we promote in the mental health advocacy world is that we need to talk about all of our issues. Again the line between release and reinforcement comes into play.

There were times I would talk about every single detail of my depression. I'd cry, go over how useless I felt and how much I wish it would change. In those moments I'd vent to a friend or therapist and feel a lot better. Just getting the feelings out helped me see that my problems weren't that bad or big.

Other times I'd talk about my depression and not see an end in sight or an action that could change my current state. As I constantly talked about how low I was, I felt a reinforcement of my self-hatred and depression. Discussing my suicidal thoughts sometimes only made me think about them more. I didn't see a way out of the pain and felt like talking about all of the low points made it worse. We need to do more than just talk about it. Talking is just one step of the journey.

Exercise as a Coping Mechanism

Exercise gets a lot of attention as an effective coping mechanism and again everyone needs to know his or her line between release and reinforcement.

When I have a lot of anxiety, it feels great to go for a long run, bike ride or do some yoga. The endorphins from the activity help me feel better and relieve the pent up emotions. I feel calmer and relaxed at the end of a workout, which is beneficial to my mental health.

There are also times exercise can reinforce a person's problem. We've all seen that person at the gym who has an extreme eating disorder and is obsessed with getting thinner, so he or she makes time to exercise incessantly. When I went through a divorce I decided to run a marathon. The farthest I had ever run in a race before this was a 5k. I trained for eight weeks. Got barefoot shoes. I finished in the top 5 percent of the marathon. I looked at my bloody, blistered feet at the finish line and realized I took my emotional pain and just reinforced it on my body.

There are and endless amount of ways for all of us to cope. I've only scratched the surface of some. What ways do you cope? Have you walked the thin line between release and reinforcement? Feel free to share!


Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at...

Read Post

7 Tips For Mental Health Advocates

(1) Comments | Posted October 8, 2014 | 11:58 AM

I started speaking about my experiences with bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features when I was 17. At that time, I knew almost every other advocate in the country. There weren't many of us. Now there are thousands. There's been an extraordinary leap in mental health advocacy...

Read Post

Let's Stop Assuming People Know What Mental Health Is

(7) Comments | Posted September 25, 2014 | 11:45 AM

Yesterday, the White House had a briefing on mental health and suicide prevention in honor of Suicide Prevention month. Advocates, professionals and organizations often use the words, "mental health," in a way that assumes everyone knows what mental health is. Unfortunately, that's not true. If we're going to decrease stigma and have an honest conversation about mental health, then we need to take a step back and make sure all of us are on the same page.

Here are three things to clear up the confusion.

1. Mental Health is not having a mental illness.
Oftentimes when people hear the words mental health they only think of mental illnesses, celebrity breakdowns or worst-case scenarios. They do not think of healthy images. The word mental has a stigma attached to it that can immediately trigger scenes from horror movies, school shootings and epic celebrity breakdowns like Charlie Sheen, Britney Spears, Amanda Bynes or Lindsey Lohan.

However, mental health is not having a problem. It's how you address all of the challenges in your life. It's how you handle stress, break-ups, rejection, lack of sleep, loss and everything else. We need a clear definition of mental health as a baseline. The World Health Organization defines mental health as "a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community."

2. Mental health is as important as physical health.
Teaching people solely about mental illnesses isn't the best way to be preventative or proactive in preparing them for their lives. We need to teach mental health the same way we teach physical health. The education needs to start at the youngest age possible and carry through all levels of school.

When people are asked to describe physical health they use words like diet, exercise, muscles, CrossFit, yoga, Pilates, gluten-free, the Bar Method etc., (I live in LA) or any other description that implies taking care of yourself. Again, when people are asked to describe mental health they rarely use words that have a positive connotation.

Your brain is one of the most important parts of your body. You can exercise, develop and strengthen your brain as much as you do your body. There are obvious exercises like memory, crosswords and puzzles. Another thing you can do is to evaluate your coping mechanisms. People strengthen their muscles with exercise and stretching. You can strengthen your mental health by creating effective coping mechanisms.

3. Mental health is for everyone.
I give a lot of presentations about mental health. Not surprisingly, most of the presentations I give are mandatory, because what college student is sitting in his dorm room thinking, "I wish there were more mental health speakers coming to campus. I'm tired of going to parties and having fun."

My favorite person in my audiences is the person who upon learning he is at a mental health presentation rationalizes it by thinking, "I'll listen to this, so I know what to do for other people." Balanced mental health is something all of us should have. I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features. Someone else may only experience small levels of stress. In both of these cases our goal should be to have balanced mental health.

So in the immortal words of Oprah. You get mental health. You get mental health. You get mental health...

Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention...

Read Post

3 Reasons Greek Life Is a Great Place to Address Mental Health

(2) Comments | Posted September 17, 2014 | 11:55 AM

Fraternities and sororities have a lot of stereotypes that they are constantly fighting. To the outside world these organizations can come across as superficial cliques that are unnecessarily selective and just want to party. There is a lot of attention paid to individual chapters that are involved in hazing, substance...

Read Post

One Thing We're Missing When We Talk About Suicide

(1) Comments | Posted September 9, 2014 | 2:41 PM

My life wasn't magically easier after I was released from the psychiatric ward for a suicide attempt. The intervention was done. I wasn't actively trying to harm myself, but I was far from safe. During the four years after my discharge, I went through the extremes of bipolar...

Read Post

We Need to Do More Than Post About Robin Williams

(7) Comments | Posted August 15, 2014 | 1:39 PM

I attempted to take my own life during my senior year of high school. Two months after I got out of the psychiatric ward, a psychologist came into my classroom to talk to students about mental illness. He told us about a patient with severe mental illness who thought he...

Read Post

5 Mental Health Tips for Back to School

(1) Comments | Posted September 16, 2013 | 4:57 PM

I stared out of the window of the psychiatric ward in utter disbelief that my freshman year of college had ended, after only two months. I went to American University with so much hope. College was going to be the place where I moved forward with my life. A setting...

Read Post

Sibling Bullying Isn't the Problem

(0) Comments | Posted June 19, 2013 | 5:38 PM

A recent study showed that even mild acts of sibling aggression are as detrimental as the bullying kids face at school. When I read the article I immediately flash backed to my childhood.

As the youngest of three boys, I had my fair share of emotional and...

Read Post

What's New From the White House Conference on Mental Health

(6) Comments | Posted June 6, 2013 | 11:39 AM

On Monday, President Obama opened the second White House Conference on Mental Health with a meaningful plea to end the stigma surrounding mental illness and bring these issues out of the shadows. Almost 14 years ago to the day, President Clinton had similar comments as he closed the first-ever White...

Read Post

LA FEST Uses Soccer to Bring Communities Together

(0) Comments | Posted March 26, 2013 | 12:49 PM

It may seem unimaginable to witness an event that brings together HIV and AIDS education in Africa, bone marrow transplants, celebrities and soccer for people of all ages. That event took place, however, Sunday at LAFEST at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA. LAFEST co-founders and soccer enthusiasts Dylan...

Read Post

We Need More Than Dialogue About Mental Illness

(14) Comments | Posted February 19, 2013 | 9:57 AM

It seems everyone is coming out of the woodwork to talk about the need for dialogue about mental illness. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius recently mentioned that the White House will be starting conversations about this issue in the next few weeks. Robert...

Read Post

Another Tragedy and Another College-aged Shooter

(5) Comments | Posted December 18, 2012 | 12:10 PM

There are a lot of alarming trends in these recent tragedies. One that is often overlooked is that the shooters in Aurora, Oregon, Newtown, and many other past atrocities are all college-aged. That fact begs the question, what kind of mental illness and or mental health education is being taught...

Read Post

How To Have The Perfect Wine Tasting At Home

(1) Comments | Posted September 18, 2012 | 5:12 PM

There's something enchanting about visiting wineries. Getting to see firsthand where the wines are made, smelling the fresh air, admiring the scenery and taking in the whole process is always a special process. However, sometimes it's just not possible to get to an area where there are wineries.


Read Post

5 Facts About Blended Wines for Beginners

(1) Comments | Posted September 6, 2012 | 11:50 AM

In my last piece I called blended wines the ice cream sundae of all of my favorite grapes. Blends are some of the most complex and interesting types of wine. In order to learn more about the process, I spent a day with Mariana Onofri, a sommelier and Wine Director...

Read Post

Debunking 5 Common Wine Myths

(25) Comments | Posted August 29, 2012 | 6:11 PM

It seems just about everyone I meet has a variety of opinions about wine. I never know what to believe. Should I stick to Paul Giamatti's advice and not drink Merlot? When I tilt my wine glass and it appears to cling to the side like Spider-Man is that because...

Read Post

How to Select a Bottle of Argentine Wine

(3) Comments | Posted August 23, 2012 | 10:43 AM

My typical wine selection experience doesn't usually go well. I walk into a store. Stand in front of hundreds of bottles of wine. Then I try to decipher some hidden wine code that allows me to walk out with a quality bottle. I'm pretty sure a child could pick the...

Read Post

Peace Corps Service Expands Career Options

(2) Comments | Posted August 13, 2012 | 2:30 PM

The 27 months of Peace Corps service flies by. Some volunteers start thinking about what comes next early in their service and others don't worry about it until they are back in the U.S. All of us hope to utilize new skills we gained in foreign countries. Returned Peace Corps...

Read Post

5 Tips About Oak Aging for Wine Novices

(4) Comments | Posted August 7, 2012 | 4:12 PM

The word oak doesn't usually trigger instant enthusiasm. Some people have a negative connotation with the word, particularly when it comes to wine. However, experts know oak can often make or break a wine's flavor, price and even has scientists trying to develop ways to copy its importance.


Read Post

The Trick to Identifying Wine Tastes

(1) Comments | Posted August 1, 2012 | 6:25 PM

The two most important parts to determine a good wine are smell and taste. In my last piece, I covered three steps to become a wine aroma expert. Now that you have that part down, it's time to move on to a really useful trick to identify the...

Read Post

A Fun Way to Discover Wine Aromas With Items Already in Your Kitchen

(3) Comments | Posted July 24, 2012 | 12:13 PM

As a person who rarely even selects which wine to drink when I am out for dinner, I am definitely a novice when it comes to properly identifying wine aromas. I can't tell you how many times I have put my nose over a glass and guessed, purely out of...

Read Post