It was another cold winter day in Michigan. This did not stop L.A. based speaker Ross Szabo from flying in for the day to meet and talk with community leaders, clinicians, school administrators, and mental healthcare professionals about mental health at this years first "The Dark Secret of Mental Illness: Shedding Light on Mental Health" at West Bloomfield High School in West Bloomfield.

Chairwoman Wren Beaulieu-Hack, of the youth professional council of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit was emotionally excited as she pointed out. We had hoped for 75 and ended up filling the auditorium close to 400, creating a "standing-room only" roughly two hour presentation.

Hosted by former WXYZ news reporter Cheryl Chodun, the attendees were touched, educated and entertained by Ross as he took them on a very insightful and personal journey of his own battles as a teen growing up with bipolar disorder. Through a powerful PowerPoint presentation experience, Ross helped detail how his personal experience paralleled with so many and what he feels American school systems should do to better arm the educational systems for the new level of understanding.

Szabo’s impactful speech centered on a key component of improving mental health:  A change in one’s coping mechanisms.  “We can’t, as yet, eliminate bi-polar, but through therapy and medication, we can demonstrate that it doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” he said.

His own remarkable success story was the exclamation point that provided context and emphasis to the entire conference.

When it comes to teen mental illness, Ross' book Behind Happy Faces carefully outlines his thoughts. Ross founded the Human Power Project to help with his message.

When Ross had completed his talk, he joined a panel of professionals on stage who were able to offer thoughts on a wide range of topics. The afternoon included a panel discussion by local experts, including Isabelle Eaulieu, Ph.D, Raymond Dalton of the Outpatient Program at Dawn Farm Addiction Services, Dr. Kuman of Becon Day Treatment Center, Dr. Ann Moye, Marie Murray, Melissa Oleshanksy, Ph.D., Sara Tischler and Connie Wood of ‘A Circle of Hope.  All were available after the program for one-on-one discussions with attendees at various tables set up the the school’s hallways. 

Ms. Chodun's masterful ability to emcee bridged conversations with the professionals and subjects being discussed.

By the end of the day, I am sure the attendees left enlightened and maybe, in some cases, felt not as alone or helpless. It's clear evidence from this first gathering, it takes a village to raise a child and here in West Bloomfield, they have come together to work hard for the youths. As chairwoman Wren put it, "These young people of today will be adults and our leaders tomorrow. We have to now stop not paying attention to mental illness."

This gathering also gave Common Ground on one of Michigan's most renowned organizations the ability to remind everybody of the work they do on issues related to addiction, family, domestic violence, anxiety disorder, as well as many more.

We were thrilled to have documented this for our series on depression and suicide for our production Death is not the Answer.