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A plea for more aid, less ignorance
Margaret trudeau at mental health forum describes long struggle with bipolar disorder

The Gazette
Saturday, November 17, 2007

Margaret Trudeau continued her battle yesterday to lift the stigma surrounding mental illness, pleading for more understanding and more money for a problem she said is greatly underestimated.

Recounting her tumultuous marriage to former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, she told the 57th annual conference of the Canadian Psychiatric Association at a downtown hotel that she left her husband ''hoping to become a normal person.''

What she didn't realize then was that she had a condition now known as bipolar disorder, characterized by wild swings between mania and depression.

''It didn't help that I ran off with the Rolling Stones,'' she said, joking about her well-publicized partying days.

Billed as a public forum on the stigma of mental illness and the need to humanize psychiatric care, the meeting brought together about 200 people, including psychiatric doctors, nurses, caregivers and some patients. The conference continues through tomorrow.

People with mental illness are usually not violent to anyone but themselves, if at all, the forum was told. They need understanding from family, friends and colleagues, just like with any other type of illness.

Trudeau, 59, said she was twice misdiagnosed and given various "mind-numbing" medications and treatments since she left Trudeau in 1977. It was only after her son Michel died in an avalanche nine years ago and the former prime minister died in 2000, that she got the right treatment.

Smoking marijuana was making her condition even worse, she said, and her slump only ended with changes in medications, diet and fitness.

Several people at the forum said the mentally ill and their caregivers are given second-class status in hospitals.

''Where do I go for help?'' Patricia Bassilios asked, explaining her 26-year-old schizophrenic son has been taking street drugs instead of his medications. Several people later approached her with advice.

Progress can start with compassion at home, Trudeau said, and by people learning more on the Internet by ''googling depression and schizophrenia and panic attack.''
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