Speaker encourages mental health discussion on campus

In an effort to encourage discussion about mental health on campus, educator and author Ross Szabo spoke to the junior class during its class meeting April 22. In addition to addressing the steps students can take to improve their mental health, Szabo shared stories about his own struggle with depression.

Szabo stressed the importance of opening up emotionally with others.  At 16, doctors diagnosed Szabo with bipolar disorder. Two years later, he was hospitalized for attempting to take his own life. Later that year, Szabo took a leave of absence from American University after a relapse with bipolar disorder.

Szabo said he regrets that, when he went to therapy following his first suicide attempt, he tried to hide what he was truly feeling inside.

“If I wanted to talk about the life that I lived, I would have gotten up and said, ‘Hi, my name is Ross and I hate myself,’” Szabo said. “But I didn’t say that. The point of this part of my story is not actually about me, it’s about all of you. Because how many people do you know with a gigantic external life that everyone sees, and an internal life that is completely different?”

Though awareness about mental health is spreading, the way students deal with their disorders is an area that requires more discussion, Szabo said.

“It is time to stop going and telling you that you messed up without teaching you what to do about it,” Szabo said. “The statistic that bothers me the most, and the reason I started speaking is that 66 percent of students don’t seek help for their mental disorders. And I want to change that.”

Community Council hoped Szabo’s message would increase awareness regarding problems in the school community that are often overlooked, member Carli Cooperstein ’20 said.

“We wanted more people to understand that the things we go through on a personal level, like mental disorders, are not to be turned a blind eye to,” Cooperstein said. “We want to highlight that there are constant struggles that we all go through, and that you are not alone in what you are experiencing.”

While Szabo was initially scheduled to speak only in junior class meeting, the school decided to invite him back to campus following the success of his speech.  Szabo will next address the senior class during the upcoming Senior Transition Day on May 24.

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