My name is Ross Szabo. I'm the Director of Youth Outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign. I'm the co-author Behind Happy Faces: Taking Charge of Your Mental Health.
And I have a bipolar disorder. My organization focuses on removing the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
So, I've spent a lot of time speaking about my personal life and experience with bipolar disorder.
I think any speaker can stand up and if you have a moving story people cry or they're drawn in and then you end it. And they leave the presentation thing, Wow! That guy's life sucked!
And they don't leave saying, Oh, I need to do something in my life. And so, I try to use my life as an example of what they can change.
I visited my brother in a psychiatric ward when I was 11 and then I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16.
At age 17, my diagnosis has changed to bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features.
And in my senior year of high school, I was hospitalized for attempting to take my own life. And then 10 months later, I had to leave college two months
into my freshman year because I relapsed with bipolar disorder and I was hospitalized again. So you know, I struggled a lot from mainly 16 probably
until 21 or 22, but I would say that the biggest thing I learned in that time was not to cope with alcohol and had a lot of substance abuse and a lot of issues along the way.
I'm speaking to Mt. San Antonio College and trying to get college students to pay attention to the mental health I guess.
People would sit down and say, Why don't you talk about how you feel and if you take these medications, it will take time but you'll feel better.
And in my 16-year old head, I knew if I drink a case of beer and I passed out, I could get through the day.
Why don't you tell us about your life and I said, All right, my name is Ross. I'm the President of my class. I play varsity basketball for two years.
I attended the National Young Leaders Conference. I have a 3.6 GPA and I stopped and I felt really stupid because the life I was describing was my external life.
It was a life everyone else saw with my college resume, but it wasn't the life that I lived. If I'm going to talk about the life that I lived, I should have stood up and said,
Hi! My name is Ross and I hate myself. And I hate myself so much I'm willing to binge drinking and driving and destroy myself. I don't think anyone should care about me.
And so, I started binge drinking a lot at 16. And if you do that, your treatments are not going to work. And so, by age 17 and that's when I really started having major outburst with anger
while I was always breaking my knuckles and toes, punching and kicking things and had severe hallucinations.
And that's when my diagnosis has changed to bipolar with anger control problems and psychotic features.
And I think when people saw me, they thought, Oh, you know, this guy can't have many problems. He doesn't look like he has bipolar disorder,
but internally I was a mess. As far as doctors knew, I was lying. I mean I wasn't telling the truth. I don't know if they knew I was lying, but you can't treat someone who is lying.
You can't help someone who is lying. You can only treat the truth and you can only help yourself by being honest.
And that's something I really have to learn the hard way. It takes a lot of time and I think when people talk about bipolar disorder, they focus heavily on
treatment and medication and diagnosis, but you can throw all those things out the window if someone hates themselves. And I really hated myself.
And I think the turning point for me was really understanding that I need to care enough about myself to want to try treatment. I want to try and get better.
So, if you take one thing from the presentation and let it be this. I won't be alive today. I won't be standing here in front of you at all.
I wouldn't even have graduated from high school if I didn't learn to talk about my problems, if I didn't learn to seek help and find what's best for me.
I think part of the hardest problem about people seeking help today is that they go into the office. They don't know even how to talk about an emotion.
You know, when I was 16, 17, 20-year-old, 22-year-old guy, I had no idea how to talk about emotion. Nobody talked about emotion in my home.
It was hard because people would ask me how I felt and I dint know what to say.
And so, it was partly being honest and partly being responsible in saying, I want to change this and also being vulnerable enough to learn how to
talk about how I felt and how to express myself and how to change that. I think that once I was able to grasp the concept of talking about how I feel and
putting words to my thoughts, it really did change my life. It changed my treatment.