Behind Happy Faces

Kirsten Wessel, Contributing Writer

On Oct. 7, the Counseling & Student Development Center in partnership with Athletics and Active Minds brought award-winning speaker, author, and Peace Corps Volunteer Ross Szabo to speak to students about the stigmas and realities surrounding mental health.

Szabo informed students of his youth and history with mental health disorders in an open, relatable, and brutally honest fashion. After years of experiencing difficulty sleeping, often going without for three to five days, his mood rapidly changed from feelings of invincibility to those of complete anger or depression. At the age of 16, Szebo was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and later with anger control issues. A year later, he was hospitalized after attempting to take his own life.

In college, Szabo would drink excessively in an attempt to overcome his extreme social anxiety and fear of meeting new people. Outwardly, he was perceived as a happy and fun person to be around, yet behind closed doors, he was anything but that. At the age of 22, after being in and out of college with varied bouts of mania and depression, Szabo finally accepted his problem and began actively trying to help himself by finding appropriate coping measures that worked for him.

Szabo encouraged students to seek help when struggling with any type of mental health issue, emphasizing how common they are among young students. 25 percent of college students suffer from mental health issues each year. It is the second leading cause of death on college campuses, partly because mental health is highly stigmatized and greatly misunderstood. Out of fear of judgment, lack of trust in their peers, and feelings of self-consciousness, students rarely seek the help they need.

“The most important thing that [a student] can do is to talk to someone and I think it has to be a professional. The analogy I always use is if you thought your foot was broken, you would go find out, you wouldn’t just limp around,” Szabo said. “When it’s emotional, you may not know how to deal with it, and there are people that can help walk you through that. A counseling center is a great place to start.”

“It was interesting to hear Ross Szabo speak about mental health. It’s not a subject that we discuss often, but its prevalence on our campus is obvious. The example I enjoyed the most was the battle of stress that I unfortunately participate in every day. It was a reality check that I needed to hear,” Ryan Frazier ’16 said.

All too often, university students privately suffer from a mental health disorder while hiding “Behind Happy Faces.” If you or someone you know is suffering from any kind of mental health issue, please contact the Counseling & Student Development Center at (570) 577-1604.

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