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Thinking strong: McKnight Center hosts Ross Szabo to discuss importance of mental health

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The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University on October 29, 2020.

The stigma surrounding mental health has been an ongoing issue for years, but luckily there are people like Ross Szabo who have dedicated their life to rid of the stigma and teach young people about the importance of maintaining a healthy mind

The McKnight Center hosted Ross Szabo on Wednesday evening to talk about his own personal experience with mental health, focusing on the importance of viewing it similarly to physical health and teaching ways to better understand one's own journey.

Szabo openly shared about dealing with loss at a young age, diagnosis with bipolar disorder as a teenager and struggle with addiction, while explaining his lack of understanding and acknowledging of complex feelings.  

This accumulation of life events has brought Szabo to where he is now, an expert in the field of mental health awareness and education curriculum. 

“I think the biggest takeaway is that your mental health is like your physical health and that you have to work on it in the same way,” Szabo said, “No matter what you’re going through though, you’re not alone.”

Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common among people who struggle with their mental health, but reminding ourselves that there are other people who understand how you feel is very important..

“There are so many other students going through the same thing, but for some reason we can't find a way to connect and we can’t find a way to do effective coping. We tend to seem like we’re so disconnected or different,” Szabo said. “So just that basic message of knowing your mental health is like your physical health and that it’ll take some work to change the patterns already had in our own lives.” 

For Szabo, one of the rewards about traveling to different universities to talk about mental health, is seeing the light-bulb moment many students have.

“I think college students really do want to know about their mental health but nobody finds a way to kind of explain it in a system where they’re like “ah that makes sense,” so having a chance to give them a language, and a map, and a guide and an example, is exciting,” Szabo said. “I find this generation is so vulnerable and so understanding and so concerned and there’s just a chance to like this approach that gives them skills to run with it. I think, you know, it’s time and i think this generation has been held back because they don’t get to develop those skills.”

Freshman student Haden Reed attended Szabo’s speech with not much expectation of what she was going to hear, but came out with a whole new perspective on mental health.

“I just didn’t realize how physical health and mental health are so related and I think it was really interesting to think about how we were raised in a way where we were so focused on our physical health and we didn’t pay enough attention to our mental health,” Reed said. “I think that it was really cool that he was stepping away and taking more steps towards action instead of just awareness.”