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mental illness

Whistler not immune to mental illness subhead: depression a common ailment By Paul Andrew Where do you go when there seems to be nowhere to turn? Depression, at the medically-diagnosed stage, is a world away from the dreary, blue feeling many of us experience on an occasional basis. Most of the time we sit it out by keeping a low-profile until it passes. This attitude of resilience works for many, but not all of us have the genetic makeup which leads back to a healthy lifestyle. During the week of Oct. 4-10, Canadians will be asked to recognize those who are less fortunate in the game of life during Mental Illness Awareness Week. But you have to hand it to yourself if you work on the front line of the service industry in a resort such as Whistler. Why? It can be a killer as far as forming a high enough opinion of yourself in order to lead what the experts call a normal life. Donna Dixx Milstein, of the Coast Garibaldi Community Health Services Society in Whistler and Pemberton, counsels people on acute depression and schizophrenia, which isn’t easy when you consider society as a whole handicaps the healing process. "There is a stigma toward mental illness," Dixx Milstein said. "And it affects the way you think about yourself. Some people are more easily depressed than others. And self medication is a huge problem in Whistler." To self medicate, in laymen’s terms, is to indulge in drugs or in drink. But as Dixx Milstein and individual life skills worker Laura Modray point out, to self medicate can also be to self-destruct. Booze is a depressant, and if your problems are severe, the alcohol will magnify the problem. But it’s not all bad news. Fortunately, society provides many role models. "There are people who are more resilient than others," Dixx Milstein explained. "And we can look to people who, for some reason such as physical make-up, can overcome a bout of depression more quickly than others." For those who can’t overcome the blues after a couple of weeks, Dixx Milstein says a trip to the family general practitioner should be considered. And there’s nothing wrong with admitting to yourself that you’ve got a problem. Dixx Milstein says she’s backed up three months with people who have been sent to her by their doctors. "The things you’re asking me I answer every day," she said. "How can you overcome it without seeing a doctor? Lifestyle management is one way. Improving skills and ability and standing up for what you think is right; being assertive. How you think about yourself is also important, as well as your outlook on life." Unless schizophrenia or depression is in your family genes, Modray and Dixx Milstein say there are ways to combat depression and deal with problems that never seem to go away. "There’s probably a lot of people in Whistler who work every day and are depressed," said Modray, who, among other things, helps people with Down’s syndrome develop life skills. "More and more, employee assistance programs are being used. Some of the hotels up here have them and I know Intrawest does and people are using them." Discussion groups are also available through Coast Garibaldi, such as eating disorder groups the first and third Wednesday every month. The conversation can lead to other subjects and become an overall therapy session. Talking about it is a crucial part of any recovery. "Basically anything you can do that’s not drug- or booze-related will help," Dixx Milstein says. Especially in the shoulder season when activity on the mountains is severely limited. The weather also affects the way we think and feel about our lives. "It’s a great time to exercise indoors. Counselling will maybe help your resilience, but to build your skills and abilities really helps you deal with the way you feel about yourself. "Depression will kill people because it can lead to suicide. Darkness comes in and you wonder: why? If it has ever been better or if it will get better." In Squamish on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., Dr. Chris Schenk will speak on the subject of the Good News about Treating Disabling Mental Illnesses, in the Garibaldi Room at The Howe Sound Inn. Call the Howe Sound Community Health Services at 1-800-785-7370 for more information.