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The best medicine

Comedian David Granirer, who suffers from depression, kicks off the county's mental health awareness campaign
by: raymond rendleman Canadian comedian David Granirer performs at the Abernethy Center to kick off Clackamas County's Open Hearts, Open Minds campaign last week.

It is often said that laughter is the best medicine, yet few doctors will prescribe a trip to the gag store to treat diseases that are based in thoughts and emotions.

Diagnosed with depression, David Granirer hoped to change local attitudes about mental illness starting with a stand-up comedy routine at the Abernethy Center in Oregon City. The famed Canadian jokester was invited by the Clackamas County's health department at the agency's launch of an Open Minds Open Doors campaign.

Grainier set to work immediately to turn assumptions about mental illnesses on their head. He described his campaign to bring a mental health center to his community, fighting neighbors who believed that the center would bring more assault and property crimes.

'When I'm medicated, I can't even operate a Swiffer, let alone muster up the coordination to assault someone with a chainsaw,' Granirer joked. 'And when you are managing 50 million galaxies, you're way too busy to steal my car.'

Local leaders in the mental health field appreciated Granirer's help in challenging the myths and fears around mental illness and addictions.

'The people who have these issues are not the stereotypical person on the street talking to themselves,' said Cindy Becker, director of the Clackamas County Health, Housing and Human Services Department.

A community partnership at the event included 80 members of the Clackamas County business community, mental health advocates, health care providers, members of the faith community and local residents. After the stand-up routine, they kicked off a campaign to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness by brainstorming ways to raise awareness and understanding.

One in four people in Clackamas County struggle with a mental health issue, and nearly one in 12 report struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. Stigma against people dealing with these issues makes it difficult for them to get help and leads to discrimination in the housing and job markets, according to the county's health department.

Granirer has taken on the issues by launching a comedy program called Stand Up for Mental Health that eventually will take patients on tour across the country doing routines. He recalled how participants would gain strength 'not to listen to the voices as much' and counselors would be surprised by how the joke therapy would bring about psychological improvements that weren't possible through medication.

Open Minds, Open Doors campaign

More information about the new campaign can be found at www.openmindsanddoors.com, where the public can sign up for email updates about upcoming events expected to begin this summer. Business owners and organization leaders can also sign up for a Seal of Commitment to put on their doors to show their dedication to treating people with mental illness and addictions with dignity and respect.

n A directory of mental health services in Clackamas County is at http://clackamas.or.networkofcare.org.

n Among the services available in Clackamas County are the 'David Romprey Oregon Warmline,' 800-698-2392, serving the entire state through peer-to-peer counseling. More info and hours can be found at www.co.clackamas.or.us/socialservices/rguide/info1998ac.html.

n County residents in crisis can also access 24-hour consultation with mental health professionals by calling 503-655-8585.