Speaker uses experiences with depression, suicide to help students in area where suicide and attempts are more prevalent

"When Drew Bergman asked students at a packed Graves County Middle School assembly on Thursday how many of them knew someone who had attempted or died from suicide, half of them raised their hands. That stark reality demonstrates how prevalent suicide is in Graves and several area counties," David B. Snow reports for The Paducah Sun.

Graves County is in the Four Rivers mental-health region, one with a significantly higher rate of 10th-grader suicide attempts (9.3 percent) than the rest of Kentucky (8.2 percent). Among adults, the county "ranked 25th among Kentucky's 120 counties with a suicide rate of 17.88 per 100,000 people," Snow notes. "Carlisle [County] led the state with 28.46, Hickman ranked fifth at 23.4, Marshall was sixth at 23.28, Ballard was 13th at 20.26, Fulton was 14th at 20, McCracken was 15th at 19.61 and Calloway was 81st at 13.94. Livingston County is 56th at 15.23."

Snow notes, "Kentucky Health News reported in November that 1 in 12 of Kentucky's high school sophomores said they had attempted suicide within the previous year. It also reported that teen suicides went from 19 in 2014 to 44 in 2016, more than doubling in a two-year period. With seven of the eight Purchase counties among the state's top 25 in suicide rate," Lourdes Hospital in Paducah invited Minding Your Mind, an organization promoting mental-health education, to send a speaker last year."

That was Bergman, who came to McCracken and Marshall counties last year. He told GCMS students that he had come "from a good family, he and his two siblings were very good students, but underneath what he called the 'country club' facade were things kept out of the public eye," Snow writes. "Bergman said his seemingly successful father was an alcoholic and his parents slept apart for most of his youth because of that. He said his father's addiction was hidden from the children until his father got in a drunken driving wreck when Bergman was in the seventh grade. That was when his parents divorced.

"This perfect childhood that I grew up living came crashing down," Bergman said. "And this is when my entire family began to deal with their own mental health issues for the first time. . . . For the first time, I began to exhibit some symptoms of depression." He attempted suicide that year, and again four years later, at age 16.

"When he was a senior, Bergman told the students at his high school about his depression," Snow writes, quoting him: "The day that I started to talk about what I had gone through is the day that I began to feel better."

Snow writes, "He encouraged the students to talk about how they feel with parents, teachers or trusted adults. He said that people need to talk about mental health issues to help remove the stigma associated with them and to help those going through them. Bergman also encouraged the students who knew someone going through problems to tell an adult, saying he would rather lose that friendship than lose that friend to suicide."

Bergman also discussed treatment for mental illness and how he has treated his depression "through medication and positive coping mechanisms, like listening to music, getting outside, relaxation, and preparing for things like tests or events to remove stress and maintain some control. He encouraged the students not to let the topic end with the assembly, to talk about mental illness with their peers, their parents and their teachers."

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