Meet a Health Hero: Drew Bergman

"Talk about mental health as openly and as often as you talk about going to the gym, how far you ran this weekend, your time in the latest triathlon, the number of 5Ks you finish each spring."

Drew Bergman» You can vote for Drew here October 4th through October 10th. Mark your calendar! 

Name: Drew Bergman

Role: Mental health advocate with Minding Your Mind

Who or what motivates you to be healthy?
When you hear someone talk about being “healthy,” the first thought of many people is physical health. What’s so often is overlooked is that your individual mental health is just as important to the overall well-being of your life as your physical health.

My motivation to be healthy is that each day I stand at a crossroads. If I look in one direction, I see my life before I understood the importance of taking care of my mental health; I can remember how I felt and the emptiness that drove me to two suicide attempts. If I look in the other direction, I see my life as a survivor of those attempts. I think about my family, my friends, and what I have achieved in my education and career as a mental health advocate. I know which path I want to take. Every day. 

Describe a health or fitness-related turning point in your life.
On January 1, 2010, I survived my second suicide attempt and spent 18 days in a mental health facility. I was a junior in high school, at St. Joseph’s Prep. I returned to school, unsure of what to expect from my classmates and my teachers, and unaware of what was waiting for me. Fortunately for me, the people waiting were my guidance counselor, my principal, teachers, and my mother; all desperate to help me in any way that they could. The recovery process was a challenge, but the growth that I made was remarkable. The turning point in my life was on February 9, 2011, when I gave a 16-minute speech about my suicide attempt to 1,200 of my classmates. I received a 10-minute standing ovation. That was the moment I realized that in telling my story, I found my power — the power to change the lives of others by sharing the truth about mine.

What policy would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
My policy would be equality between physical health and mental health, beginning with children. Every child needs a physical to enter school or participate in a sport. Every child should be required to have a mental health screening at the same time. Every school requires physical education as part of its curriculum, whether it’s a formalized P.E. class or recess. Every school should require mindfulness practices in the same level. Helping children understand how their brains work and providing them mindful exercises to help manage stress, anxiety, and depression is as important for the overall well-being and development of a person as teaching them how to be physically fit and eat healthy foods. This policy doesn’t need to be limited to children; businesses and corporations should implement the same programs for their employees, creating a stronger, happier, and more productive workforce. Imagine a Philadelphia like this!

What’s the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?
The most important part of my health regimen is my weekly therapy appointments. It is vital to my day-to-day success and overall life fulfillment to make sure that my mental well-being is being addressed and cared for. Any focus on my physical health is in support of my mental health; the work I do at the gym at least twice per week helps me stay fit and feel good about myself. I eat well and try new food regularly to understand how food, fitness, and mental health all interact to create the best me I can be. Each piece is vital to the puzzle that is me; if one piece is missing, the picture is incomplete. My hope in my work is that every individual understands the codependence of physical and mental well-being.

What is your number one piece of health-related advice or encouragement?
In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describe how seemingly opposite forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may strengthen each other as they relate to one another. Mental health and physical health are the yin and yang of a fulfilled and health life. Understand that if you have one without the other, you have nothing. Focusing on one can certainly help with the other, but both pieces must be present, recognized, addressed, and cultivated in order to have the whole.

Talk about mental health as openly and as often as you talk about going to the gym, how far you ran this weekend, your time in the latest triathlon, the number of 5Ks you finish each spring. Intersperse that with how long you meditated that day, share a new realization you reached in a support group, impart a piece of wisdom you read in a book on positive psychology. One in five young adults lives with a mental health issue. Fewer than 20 percent receive treatment, with shame and stigma cited as the number one reason those who don’t seek help won’t. This lack of treatment and positive coping skills can lead to destructive behaviors instead, such as substance abuse, self-harm, distorted body image, and suicide. Let’s all work together to eliminate the stigma by treating mental health with the same respect and reverence as we do physical health; talk about it and save lives.

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