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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

Movember Gives Men a Starting Point for All the Feels

(1) Comments | Posted November 8, 2015 | 9:44 AM

It's the hairiest time of year again! Men all over the world will be growing mustaches in Movember to raise awareness for men's health . Nothing breaks down the awkwardness of guys talking about their health like the power of a Mo!

This is my second year of growing...

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The Day My Psychosis Changed

(0) Comments | Posted May 12, 2015 | 4:02 PM

When I was 23, a friend asked me to come see a horror movie with him. Seems simple enough, but after dealing with hallucinations for six years from being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, scary movies weren't really my thing. That wasn't always easy to explain to people, so I went....

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Stop Telling Students They're Messed Up and Start Doing Something About It

(2) Comments | Posted April 29, 2015 | 7:13 PM

Every week I read new studies, reports or articles letting us know what's wrong with young people today. They're stressed out more than ever. They're being bullied. They're killing themselves. They're not sleeping. They're abusing prescription...

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Mars and Venus in Mental Health

(0) Comments | Posted March 24, 2015 | 2:48 PM

We are two different people, but we have a lot of similarities. We are the same age and race. We were both diagnosed with bipolar disorder in our teens. Both of us are overachievers who were highly involved in high school and not necessarily on anyone's radar for...

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A Reason to Applaud Johnny Manziel

(0) Comments | Posted February 11, 2015 | 1:55 PM

I'm not going to lie. I never thought I'd write a blog with this title. I've been annoyed by Johnny Manziel through his college career and into the NFL. His "signature" money sign that he uses even before establishing any credibility as a pro player bothers me. His overconfident attitude...

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5 Tips for Missing Someone During the Holidays

(0) Comments | Posted December 23, 2014 | 1:47 PM

For seven years every time the phone rang on Christmas day my family wondered if it was him. There was a momentary silence as eyes darted around the room to see who would answer. Is this the moment he reaches out to us? Is he coming back? Eventually...

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5 Things Movember Taught Me

(1) Comments | Posted December 1, 2014 | 5:08 PM

This was my first year taking part in Movember. For those that don't know Movember is an organization that asks men to grow moustaches in order to raise awareness and funds for men's health.

I was excited that they included mental health and wanted to use...

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My Divorce Made Me a Better Man

(12) Comments | Posted November 19, 2014 | 1:10 PM

Like a lot of people who end up writing about divorce, this isn't something I thought I'd ever do. From the outside, it seemed like our marriage was great. Our 10-year relationship was filled with trips, parties, friends and even a Peace Corps service we did together. During the adjustment...

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Moustaches and Mental Health Are Manly

(2) Comments | Posted November 10, 2014 | 6:09 PM

Imagine a world where men are openly embracing, laughing, crying and expressing all of their emotions. Weird, right? Nope. This is what men do at nearly every sporting event or sports bar in the world. Unfortunately, that openness and comfort to express their feelings doesn't always translate away from sports.

The good news is that this November, one organization is working to change that by focusing on bringing awareness to men's mental health. And they're doing it by asking men to grow moustaches.

Movember is the leading global organization committed to changing the face of men's health. During November, they challenge men to grow a moustache to spark conversation and raise funds and awareness for men's health issues. In the past they have focused on prostate and testicular cancer. This year they're adding mental health for a host of good reasons.

Men are more than four times more likely to die by suicide than women. The suicide rate in men ages 35-64 has increased 28 percent in the last decade. We're shocked every time someone like Robin Williams takes his own life, but he is certainly not alone. Men abuse substances more than women, we experience more antisocial behavior, and men are less likely to seek help for their mental health.

As a guy who had to learn emotional lessons the hard way and is still continuing to figure out the best ways to balance my life, I really appreciate Movember's efforts. Throughout my late teens and early 20s, people were constantly concerned about my behavior. I binge drank, had explosive anger, drove drunk and attempted to take my own life. Eventually someone would ask me how I felt and I wouldn't know what to say.

Like a lot of guys, I grew up in a home where emotional words weren't used. I didn't have a starting point, which made me feel stupid. On top of that I felt that talking about my feelings was a sign of weakness. It was embarrassing. It was easier to numb myself with alcohol or drugs than it was to talk about anything. I always felt that I should just suck up whatever I was going through and eventually the emotions would go away.

The problem is the issues don't go away on their own. A lot of times the things we hide build into something else. If a guy starts a pattern of suppressing his emotions early, it can lead to horribly destructive behavior later in his life. This might be contributing to the high suicide rate in men between the ages of 35-64 or the shocking actions men are taking when they are rejected.

To change the way I dealt with my emotions I needed to take some major steps. I had to identify all of the reasons I didn't want to seek help, then work on them in order to accept what was happening in my life. Next I had to try and find ways to talk about what I was going through. After that I had to take action to change the negative behaviors in my life. Then practice new behaviors until they were more natural for me. It's an ongoing process that also requires help from friends, partners, family and whatever community we can find.

Talking about mental health is manly. Getting men at any age to believe that expressing themselves is a sign of strength is vital. It takes much more effort to be honest, forthcoming and do the work to address the mental health challenges in our lives than it does to avoid them. A guy who can address his emotions has stronger relationships, friendships and can adapt to life's difficulties.

As I grow my moustache this month, I'll be happy to share my thoughts and feelings about what I'm going through now. I'll also be happy to start conversations and let others know they can talk about whatever they're experiencing.

I'm not sure what else needs to happen in our society for people to start talking about mental health. Hopefully, the moustaches we see this month are a way to break the ice and give guys comfort to talk about their mental health as easily as they talk about sports.


Have a story about depression or mental illness 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...

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Mental Health: The Thin Line Between Coping and Catastrophe

(2) Comments | Posted October 24, 2014 | 5:53 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...

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7 Tips For Mental Health Advocates

(1) Comments | Posted October 8, 2014 | 12:58 PM

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...

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Let's Stop Assuming People Know What Mental Health Is

(7) Comments | Posted September 25, 2014 | 12:45 PM

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...

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

(2) Comments | Posted September 17, 2014 | 12:55 PM

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...

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One Thing We're Missing When We Talk About Suicide

(1) Comments | Posted September 9, 2014 | 3:41 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...

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We Need to Do More Than Post About Robin Williams

(7) Comments | Posted August 15, 2014 | 2:39 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...

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5 Mental Health Tips for Back to School

(1) Comments | Posted September 16, 2013 | 5:57 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...

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Sibling Bullying Isn't the Problem

(0) Comments | Posted June 19, 2013 | 6:38 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...

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

(6) Comments | Posted June 6, 2013 | 12:39 PM

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...

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LA FEST Uses Soccer to Bring Communities Together

(0) Comments | Posted March 26, 2013 | 1:49 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...

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We Need More Than Dialogue About Mental Illness

(14) Comments | Posted February 19, 2013 | 10:57 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...

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