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Margaret Trudeau speaks out on mental health awareness

Margaret Trudeau is living proof that mental illness can be successfully treated and that people afflicted with it can recover and live happy, productive lives. The former wife of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s 15th prime minister, was in Montreal last month as honorary chairperson for the first annual Montreal Walks for Mental Health.

The five-kilometre fundraiser was sponsored by CSSS Cavendish and several local community groups involved with mental health. The walk began and ended at Côte St. Luc’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Park.

“There are a lot of people who suffer, and they suffer in quiet desperation; they don’t reach out for help,” says Trudeau, who revealed three years ago that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“There is a lot of help for people who suffer from mental illness. I suffered from bipolar all my life and it wasn’t until I got treatment that I recovered. I live a wonderful life, which I didn’t think was possible. My news is that if you get help and you follow your doctor’s orders and you exercise and you eat well and live a good life, you can recover from a mental illness.”

Trudeau was asked why no one seems to want to discuss mental illness. “Because they don’t understand the brain,” she says.

“We understand all the other organs in the body and how they function, but not the brain. The brain is like the last taboo. … More and more research is needed to find remedies for mental illness. For those who are suffering from a mental illness it’s such good news. There is help and it’s good help and you can have a good life.”

“I chose sanity,” says Margaret Trudeau, who has bipolar disorder Photo: Martin. C. Barry

Trudeau says she finds it easier now to speak out about her own problems than in the past. “One out of five Canadians is suffering with their emotional and mental health,” she says, “either with depression or anxiety or stress or insomnia or different types of behaviour that are not normal and don’t allow them to live a whole functioning life. So it’s something that affects every family. It affects every group of friends.

“The more information you get, the more you get an understanding of the workings of the brain, of the problems of chemical imbalance, of the need for medication, of the need for therapy. Then you can be an advocate yourself, and that’s what I’m trying to be as an advocate for the mentally ill. I suffered terribly from mental illness and I haven’t for a long time because I got help. Now I live a balanced life — I chose sanity.”

Trudeau’s stopover in Montreal was part of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of mental illness issues. She has been involved for three years and has accepted speaking engagements all over the country.

“One in five Canadians is suffering from mental illness,” she says.

It’s hard for people to be honest about mental illness because of the stigma attached, she says.

While pharmaceuticals are commonly prescribed for mental illness, Trudeau said the range of treatments is much wider. “There’s everything – meditation, yoga. Certainly medication is important with a doctor. But then you have to have a very good attitude toward life through eating well, getting your vitamins, your Omega fish oils and getting exercise.

Of course, sleep is the most important. To get a good night’s sleep. That’s the first sign that you’re starting to get into trouble emotionally or mentally. You lose your sleep pattern or you sleep too much.”



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