Ross Szabo

Talking about emotions can be a challenge, but Ross’s brutally honest, relatable and humorous approach puts audiences at ease as they confront a difficult topic.

He has empowered over 1 million young people to take the first steps to achieving mental health.

“Ross’ program was exactly what we were hoping to bring to campus. He was able to shed a light on mental health in a way that allowed students to open up about their own experiences with mental health, and we have already heard amazing testimony from students who have been inspired to seek treatment and to open up about their own mental health experiences.”

– Kevin Ogle, Truman State University

“This was one of the most impactful programs we have brought over the years. His balance of humor and seriousness was really great. He had the students laughing and connecting with him but when he was talking about serious things, you could hear a pin drop in that room. It was pretty incredible.”

– Natalie Shaak, Drexel University

“The program had a profound impact on the students and staff that attended. Issues surrounding Mental Health are everywhere on campus. It was great to try and bring those out into the open and have students learn to support each other…Ross has a way of speaking to you that makes you feel comfortable immediately…He was wonderful to work with- very friendly, outgoing, funny and kind.”

– Keri Fadden, Allegheny College

“I have been at Bowdoin for three years have heard so many speakers, and Ross was the absolute best. The best in terms of his presentation skills as well as the content of his talk. He tells his story as a means of discussing mental health, not from a standpoint of “here’s my reality, isn’t it sad;” but rather, he is able to get students to think about their own reality. And that’s the power in his talk.”

– Anne Peacock, Bowdoin College

“Ross was incredible and his story was poignant! He was funny, engaging and spoke the language of modern college students. He challenged each of us to take personal responsibility for our own mental health and for ending the stigma of mental disorders. Yet, he did it in a way that was warm, funny, and empowering.”

– Kelly Mattis, Buena Vista University

Behind Happy Faces: Talking About Mental Health

When Ross was a freshman in college, everything on the surface seemed to be fine. He was making friends, getting good grades and had a fun social life. However, no one could have imagined how many emotions he was suppressing. Ross was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16, was hospitalized for attempting to take his own life during his senior year of high school, and like so many other freshman, just wanted to fit in. He tried to hide what he was feeling to convince everyone that everything was ok, but that can only last for so long. Ross’s story resonates with the millions of college students who are putting on a happy face to hide their true emotions.

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% 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, 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.

Ross teaches students about the complexities of mental health issues and empowers them to seek help or help their friends seek help. Most mental health challenges are highly treatable, but too often remain hidden in silence preventing people from achieving the recovery they are capable of.

The program focuses specifically on how students can achieve positive mental health by learning about their coping mechanisms. Ross uses tasteful humor and insights to help participants understand common mental health conditions and individual differences. He also covers warning signs that students can look for in their friends and peers, as well as resources that can provide guidance in these sensitive situations.

Learning Outcomes

As a result of attending this program, students will:

  • Be able to define mental heath as how we address and balance all of the challenges in our lives.
  • Discuss the largest barriers preventing people from seeking help for their mental health.
  • Recognize the different mental health challenges students are experiencing.
  • Lessen the stigma surrounding mental health by hearing a first hand account of a person who is functioning well despite having a diagnosed mental health disorder.
  • Identify the steps that are necessary to change ineffective coping mechanisms.

Mixed Drinks, Mixed Emotions: 
Alcohol Abuse and Mental Health

How many times have you seen a friend openly discuss all of their emotions while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and never talk about it again? Sometimes they forget what they have said. Other times they are too afraid to deal with it. A lot of times people are more comfortable addressing their emotions while they are inebriated. Self-medication has been one way college students have coped with difficult situations for many years, but it doesn’t have to continue.

Forty-eight percent of young people with a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental health issue. It is important to address the reasons why students may be binge-drinking, abusing substances, driving under the influence and engaging in negative behavior. The average college student today is facing overwhelming amounts of stress, workloads, transition, pressure and mental health problems. Often times they suffer in silence, hiding their fears until they become too large to deal with. This program addresses the ties between substance abuse and mental health. The goals are to break down the stereotypes surrounding expression of emotion in order to help young people function at their highest level and teach students effective coping mechanisms.

Learning Outcomes

As a result of attending this program, students will:

  • Associate the ties between alcohol, anxiety, and depression.
  • Discuss the largest barriers preventing people from seeking help for substance abuse disorders and mental health challenges.
  • Lessen the stigma around help-seeking behavior by hearing a first-hand account of a person who is functioning well despite having used substances to cope with a diagnosed mental health disorder.
  • Identify the steps that are necessary to change ineffective coping mechanisms.

Ross’s Bio

Ross is the CEO of the Human Power Project. He is an award-winning speaker, writer, trainer and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Ross 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 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.

Ross turned a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at age 16 into an opportunity to educate others. His natural ability to make difficult topics comfortable for large groups of people has led to countless media appearances and articles. He pioneered a movement of youth mental health advocacy and has created trainings to assist new speakers to reach their full potential.

Ross enjoys running and living in the Los Angeles area.


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