Margaret Trudeau came forward for the first time on Friday to share her lifelong struggle with bipolar depression, saying it was unbearable trying to cope with her illness under the scrutiny of the public eye. “It’s not easy to live with an illness that impacted my family life for years, that tore away at my two marriages and ultimately the very meaning of my life,” said Trudeau, the ex-wife of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. “None of this has been easy — but through all these years, I remember Pierre always said to me, ‘Margaret, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it that is important,'” she told reporters in Ottawa.
Bipolar depression, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is a mental illness that causes cyclical mood swings, from severe depression to episodes of extreme euphoria. In her case, Trudeau said, it was the cycles of profound sadness that were crippling. Trudeau said she first felt the symptoms of depression after the birth of her second son, Alexandre. “It was never talked about in those days and barely recognized, no matter what sector of society you lived in. And so in the public eye and under public scrutiny, I tried to manage as best I could,” she said.
Despite her attempts to cope on her own, her life as the young wife of the prime minister 24 was a lonely one, she said. “Living at 24 Sussex was very lonely — a long tunnel of darkness for me — coupled with the pressures of public life while trying on my own to manage the symptoms of bipolar depression, it was terrifying,” she said.
Trudeau told reporters that it was not until her son Michel died in an avalanche accident in 1998 and his father, Pierre Trudeau, passed away in 2000, that she finally sought the appropriate medical treatment. “I felt I was broken for a long time and now I feel whole,” Trudeau said. “I’m here today to encourage others who live with mental illness to tell them that the treatment works, that there is no shame in coming forward for help.”
Trudeau issued a plea for the public to support the Royal Ottawa Hospital’s new mental health facility, which will open in Ottawa in November. Trudeau credited the team at Royal Ottawa hospital in assisting her recovery. John Scott, chair of the Board of the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, which governs the hospital and supports the research institute, commended Trudeau for coming forward with her brave story. “The quickest route to poverty is through mental illness, and it can strike anyone, at anytime, no matter who you are in society,” Scott said in a written statement. “Depression is neither a lack of willpower nor a character flaw. I have listened to our patients and families, our partners in the mental health system, and I have faith that together we can reduce this burden of mental illness. Please answer our call for help. We ask that you join Margaret as a champion and ensure that once and for all, stigma and discrimination are replaced by courage and inspiration.”
CTV.ca News Staff