Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Review of Behind Happy Faces
Tomorrow is National Depression Screening Day. A few days after I participated in a bloggers’ conference call about campus mental health, a copy of Behind Happy Faces arrived at my doorstep. Written by Ross Szabo and Melanie Hall, this book is a very personal look at what happened to Szabo when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder his senior year in high school. The authors weave other stories into the message that, despite the stigma society attaches to mental health issues, help is out there and that with treatment, there is reason for great hope.
The authors don’t sugarcoat their message though. While they point out statistics may show that “a large majority of people who seek help can see improvement in their symptoms,” they must first be willing to ask for help.
Szabo and Hall have written this book as a guide for young adults. Yet, their work is valuable for those who love and work with young people. They touch on what I believe to be the most difficult issue and offer suggestions about how to get those young people to see the need for help. Common mental disorders like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder are discussed. And Szabo describes how in his case, he fell into substance abuse to self-medicate the pain of his illness as so many other people do.
Whether it’s planning, maintenance, understanding the illness or adjusting one’s lifestyle, the authors stress “you are not your disorder.” They write: “The reason this distinction is important is because it casts a more positive outlook on your treatment. You’ll start to think of your disorder as something you can manage, not something you’re stuck with, or something that can’t be help.”
While this is a straightforward and realistic look at mental illness in young people, Szabo’s story provides much encouragement. From the low point of wanting to take his own life, he has come to terms with his illness and has an understanding of what it takes to manage the bipolar disorder. The authors promise no easy answers but they do offer advice from the mental health community and Szabo’s personal experience. Today, Szabo is Director of Youth Outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign and a popular campus speaker for CAMPUSPEAK, Inc. where he has reached thousands of young people. You might also catch him penning a post for the Huffington Post. He is a man with a mission after all.
Behind Happy Faces is a book that ought to be on the bookshelf of every high school and college counselor, adviser, teacher and administrator.