Back from the brink: Eastern Iowa man leading global mental health initiative

Ross Trowbridge's personal struggles with mental health have inspired him to start a global initiative to break the stigma of silence.

Ross Trowbridge always knew something was off.

"I never felt right," he said on Wednesday in his Cedar Falls apartment. "I never felt like I was part of the crowd."

What Ross refers to as "intense emotions" are part of a mental health battle that almost cost him his life.

"At age 21, I attempted my own life," he recalled. "I had notes written."

His feeling in his seemingly final moments? Peace.

"It was a sense of relief," he said. "It was like, 'This is finally over. I don't have to deal with my issues anymore.'"

Ross survived the attempt - and found relief in his adult life with a family and a career in corporate recruiting.

"I had everything," Ross said. "I had stability for a little while."

A diagnosis came in 2015: Borderline Personality Disorder. Hope Huff, a mental health therapist at Huff Counseling Services in Waterloo, now treats Ross.

"Borderline is something that stems from filters in thinking or irrational beliefs that tend to come mostly from environment," she said in a phone interview on Friday.

Just a year after his diagnosis, Ross's environment changed. Job cuts left him unemployed - and soon, his life had fallen apart.

By July 2016, he was homeless and alone - sleeping under a bridge in Des Moines.

Ross had had enough.

"I went down to a distribution center in Des Moines," he recalled, "and I asked a supervisor for a box and a marker and I went down to Sculpture Park."

"I wrote on my sign - on my couple boxes - 'I have borderline personality disorder and I am not ashamed,' And I sat down there for about seven hours...I ended up talking to a ton of people."

And that conversation continues as Ross starts to find footing again in life. He has now created Project I Am Not Ashamed - a global initiative that hopes to end the stigma of talking about mental health issues.

On August 18, Ross wants people to create their own signs and take them to an area with high foot traffic - just like he did as a homeless man in Des Moines. Whether it's a person suffering from mental health issues or someone supporting them, Ross is asking those with signs to ask passersby to read their signs and hopefully engage in conversations to educate the world.

Just three months after starting the initiative, Ross has confirmed participants in 25 states, 66 cities, and ten countries. He's hoping for representatives from all 50 states, 100 cities, and 20 countries.

"The way that we fight the stigma is we get to the people that hold the stigma. Bottom line."

Those who want to participate in Project I Am Not Ashamed are asked to speak to Ross through Facebook or Twitter.

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