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Lieutenant governor raises awareness on mental illness.

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TORONTO

As the 27th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, James Bartleman has made mental health awareness one of his top priorities. Because of his efforts to help others by sharing his own experience with depression, the former foreign policy advisor to Jean Chretien has been awarded the Courage to Come Back Award. Bartleman, a member of Mjnikaning First Nation, and six others were honoured May 20 at a gala sponsored by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

"My objective is to attack all the stigma associated with people who suffer from mental illnesses. This is one more way of publicizing that cause, to say 'don't be afraid to go and get help' because there are millions of people that suffer from depression in Canada and most of them never seek help and many of them commit suicide. There is no need for that because help is available," said Bartleman. "I look upon (the award) not as a personal honour, but as a means of promoting my cause."

Bartleman spent 35 years in the Canadian Foreign Service. He was ambassador to Australia, Cuba, Israel, NATO and the European Union.

Five years ago, while acting as high commissioner to South Africa, Bartleman was beaten and mugged by an intruder in his Cape Town hotel room. After surviving the attack, he struggled with post-traumatic depression, something he continues to battle today.

"It was terrible. I just wanted to die with such a terrible illness," said Bartleman.

But Bartleman did not choose to end his life. Instead, he sought treatment and has been taking anti-depressants, which has enabled him to manage his illness.

In the past month, Bartleman said he has not experienced any depressive episodes. Writing has been another form of therapy. Bartleman penned a memoir of his early years, called Out of Muskoka, which won the Joseph Brant Award in 2003. He also wrote a book about his diplomatic career called On Six Continents, which was published this year.

It is estimated that one in 10 men experience clinical depression at some point in their lives, said Dr. David Goldbloom, a senior medical advisor, educator and public affairs spokesman at CAMH. While it is normal to feel sad from time to time, clinical depression can affect much more than a person's mood.

"When people feel sad, they typically know what's making them sad, they typically last a fairly brief period of time and they know when it's going to go away. When you're depressed, people talk about it as feeling like you're in a pit, like in black hole that you can't crawl out of it. It just doesn't make any sense. It starts to colour how you see yourself, the world around you and your future," said Goldbloom.

Depression can be caused by a number of factors that include past trauma, as in Bartleman's case, chemical imbalances in the brain, or a genetic predisposition to this type of mental illness. Goldman said people suffering from depression often lose interest in activities that they have enjoyed in the past, such as hobbies, work and socializing with friends. Some may also experience sleeplessness or over sleeping. Similarly, appetite, energy, concentration, memory and motivation may be impaired.

Medical treatment for depression includes antidepressants and psychotherapy, and current medical opinion favours the use of both at the same time. Goldman said there are more than 20 types of antidepressants on the market, which are effective for about two-thirds of people who take them. In terms of medicine, said Goldman, this is considered a high success rate.

Peter Menzies is the manager of an outreach and counselling program for Aboriginal people administered by CAMH. He said that although Aboriginal people share the general symptoms and causes of depression with non-Aboriginal people, additionally cultural isolation and the residential school legacy coupled with drug and alcohol abuse can act as triggers to depression. These factors can also pose barriers for people wishing to seek treatment.

"Another barrier might be that they may be unfamiliar with resources that are in the community." Menzies added that in northern, isolated communities there was a lack of trained mental health professionals; whereas, in urban centres "they might feel isolated. They might be on a waiting list for services."

While organizations such as CAMH fly in psychiatrists to northern communities, the limited number of professionals in both urban and remote centres remains a problem with no easy solutions.

As an honourary chairman in all the major mental health organizations in Ontario, Bartleman participates in many speaking engagements about the issue of depression as a way to encourage people to get help in managing their illness. He brings the same message to remote communities he visits.

"It's even more important, I think, to bring to some remote communities this message, because the suicide rates are so high and people do suffer--in many cases, silently," said Bartleman. "It's a very incapacitating illness and people shouldn't be afraid of seeking help and treatment for it just as I did, and then get back to living. Gradually you're able to accomplish more and more. Right now, I'm going 100 per cent," said Bartleman.
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Title Annotation:HEALTH
Author:Chung, Jennifer
Publication:Ontario Birchbark
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Words:859
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