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High school students will be screened for free

Dennehy Foundation sponsors events

In the wake of the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation’s golf tournament and dinner at the Fairmont Chateau came Mental Illness Awareness week, and owing to the Dennehy Foundation this week had particular significance in Whistler.

Kelty Dennehy was 17 when he took his own life and as a result his parents, Kerry and Ginny, and others involved with the foundation have a strong affinity with youth suicide and depression.

The Dennehy Foundation has already pledged $1 million for a mental health centre in a Vancouver hospital and $500,000 for research into clinical depression at the University of British Columbia.

But the Dennehy Foundation is also helping to fund some local initiatives and one of them happened last Monday, Oct. 4 when the Canadian Mental Health Association, or CMHA, screened all the youths at the Whistler Secondary School for anxiety and depression.

Director of the West Vancouver Branch of the CMHA, Katie Hughes, said the initiative would not be happening without the Dennehy Foundation. She added that, according to research, around 30 students at each school usually need further screening.

"We anticipated that about nine per cent of the 300 students in Whistler Secondary would need further screening, which we provided for free on Monday and Tuesday," said Hughes.

"That means that nine per cent of the children responded to five or more symptoms and of those about 20 per cent might answer yes to things like suicidal attempts.

"So that’s 30 students in that school that might need our help, according to some of the statistics we’ve got based on the outcome of our pilot projects."

Hughes said a new step for Mental Illness Awareness week this year is the anxiety screening.

"For the past nine years we’ve done the depression screening and last year we piloted doing a test for depression and anxiety and based on that feedback we’ve decided provincially we should be doing that everywhere, and it makes a huge difference," said Hughes.

"I couldn’t believe the number of people who we would have missed through just screening for depression.

"Depression is more low mood symptoms, loss of interest in eating or oversleeping or not enough but anxiety – there’s five different types – social anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive; so basically anxiety interferes with your social functioning.

"Social anxiety is probably the most common, with panic attacks etc., so those things if you’re noticing them on a regular basis then they’re affecting your day to day functioning.

"How you might feel before an exam is an example (of normal anxiety) but when it affects you to a degree where you can’t do what would be considered normal activities then that’s when you need treatment."

The screening at the school was supplemented by a performance from acclaimed theatre actress and writer Victoria Maxwell.

Maxwell, who also suffers from bi-polar disorder, performed for the high school students and then at MY Place on Oct. 5 for the general public.

Maxwell said she struggled with mental illness for some time until one day she went for a naked run down the street, in West Point Grey, and was picked up by police and hospitalized.

"I was probably struggling with depression for many, many years, which is a down part of bi-polar disorder, but I was never diagnosed," said Maxwell.

"The final episode happened when I took of my dress and ran down the street naked.

"So I had the police and ambulance and I was in a rather euphoric state of psychosis.

"That was when they took me to the hospital. I was diagnosed then but I didn’t accept the label.

"Anyway, I’ve been able to come out on the other side and I’m hoping I might be able to help other people get help and information early because if you do, you don’t have to go through a lot of stuff. I mean, if I had of been told that I had depression even five years before all this happened I wouldn’t have had to go to a hospital and that makes a difference, because when you go to the psych-ward it really changes your identity in some ways."

Mental Illness: Facts and Stats

• One in four British Columbians has, or will have, a mental illness during his or her lifetime; the other three are indirectly affected by the illness of a friend, family member or colleague.

• Mental illnesses affect people of all ages, income and educational levels, and cultures.

• Every day, one person in B.C. dies from suicide.

• Mental illnesses are caused by complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality, environmental factors.

• In developed countries, mental illnesses (depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder) account for four of the 10 leading causes of disability.

• Mental illness costs Canadian businesses $13.5 billion/year (disability claims, unemployment insurance, lost productivity etc.) — 14 per cent of Canada’s corporate income.

• For the first time, in 1998, mental or emotional problems at work exceeded physical causes as the primary reason for worker absenteeism.

Yet, 80 per cent of the time chronic depression can be treated successfully. But only 50 per cent will seek treatment. The stigma attached to mental illness creates a serious barrier not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community.

— B.C. Stats, Bottom Line Conference ‘02, Canadian Mental Health Association, Global Business & Economic Roundtable on Addictions & Mental Health, Health Canada, NQI — Van. Airport Case Study ‘02, Vancouver Coastal Health, Wellness Matters Co.