Ross Szabo talks mental health at Kappa philanthropy event

Ross Szabo, a mental wellness advocate, spoke to studens in the Memorial Hall auditorium Oct. 26 about his experience with bipolar disorder and how to better balance mental health. Photo by Bonnie Cash

The Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority held its third annual “Fleurish” philanthropy event Oct. 25, which focused on mental wellness and featured award-winning mental health advocate Ross Szabo. The event raised around $20,000.

The sorority will donate its proceeds from the event to the Orange County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“We wanted to fundraise in a nontraditional way and provoke meaningful conversation about the topic,” said Grace Zoerner, a junior creative writing major and the sorority’s philanthropy chairperson. “We think that dialogue (about mental health) and compassionate and productive discussion is good in changing things about our culture and society.”

Roughly 860 students, or about 10 percent of the student body, received therapy during the 2017-2018 academic year, according to Jeanne Walker, Chapman’s director of Psychological Services.

“There are a lot of panic attacks, a lot of relationship problems and family issues, so it’s good to get help on how to manage those things,” Walker said. “Students talk about being lonely because of social media. People compare themselves to each other. It’s created a sense of loneliness in many students.”

The main donors were the Pi Beta Phi sorority and the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Because Pi Beta Phi raised the most points when donating, Kappa will give them large, personalized wooden Greek letters.

It cost Kappa’s Chapman chapter about $5,000 to have Szabo speak at the event, Zoerner said. Szabo was asked to attend the event after Kappa members heard him speak at the sorority’s national conference.

“A few other girls got to go to the convention in July, and one was brought to tears by his words because of the way he hit home,” Koehnke said.

Szabo, who is a wellness director at Geffen Academy at the University of California, Los Angeles, spoke on his own experience with bipolar disorder at the event.

He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16, he said, and that, along with a suicide attempt, caused him to struggle to maintain normalcy in his life.

“We live in such a fast-paced, quick fix society. We think things are going to be fixed quickly. It takes a lot of time to process,” he told The Panther.“There were a lot of years I lived for other people until I found a way to look through things. It takes a lot to not give up and it’s OK to fail.”

Szabo was the Director of Outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign for eight years and coauthored, “Behind Happy Faces: Taking Charge of Your Mental Health,” a book that talks about the mental health issues many young adults face.

“When we started (the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign in 2002), mental health speaking wasn’t a genre in this country. No one knew what it was,” Szabo told The Panther. “We had to create a genre. We did a lot of awareness campaigns for schools. But the most impressive thing was it was the first public health approach to approaching (mental illness) stigma around the country.”

Szabo also talked about the importance of opening up about mental health issues and creating support systems for those who need help.

The event gave the people in the audience the opportunity to think about how they treat themselves and practice positive thinking patterns, Zoerner said.

“We think that if we destigmatize these issues, we will have a community that is comfortable reaching out to each other,” Zoerner said. “We want people to be aware of the resources (around them) and be comfortable using them.”