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Margaret Trudeau: Quitting pot eased mental illness

Vancouver Sun, February 13, 2007

Quitting cannabis has been an important part of her recovery from mental illness, Margaret Trudeau said Monday at a press conference in Vancouver for the Canadian Mental Health Association's upcoming Bottom Line Conference.

Trudeau, who suffers from bipolar disorder, spoke openly with reporters about her experience with depression and the effect of her long-term marijuana use.

"I loved marijuana. I was a hippie in the '60s," Trudeau said with a laugh.

"I started smoking at a young age. I took to it like a duck to water. Strawberry Fields Forever and all that."

Trudeau, who will be the keynote speaker at the Vancouver conference on March 7, said one of the difficulties in seeking help is the stigma associated with mental illness.

There can be a consequent tendency to "isolate," said Trudeau.

It is not uncommon for sufferers to self-medicate with alcohol or marijuana, she said, rather than reach out to family and friends or seek medical assistance.

"Marijuana can trigger psychosis," said Trudeau. "Every time I was hospitalized it was preceded by heavy use of marijuana."

Trudeau was hospitalized three times for mental illness.

Her first hospitalization followed the birth of her second child, Alexandre, while she was still married to Pierre Elliott Trudeau and living at 24 Sussex Dr.

Her most recent hospitalization followed the deaths of her son Michel, and Pierre Trudeau. Although she has suffered from mental illness for 35 years, it was not until the most recent hospitalization that she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.

While delivering a message of hope, Trudeau admitted recovery isn't easy.

"It's hard work. It takes maturity first to comply with the pharmaceutical. There's the feeling that it is taking away from your creativity, your spark. My doctor said 'No Margaret, it's your disease that's taking away from your spark.'"

Part of the hard work for Trudeau has been completely giving up the use of marijuana, something she once thought made her feel "wonderful."

"I miss it," she said of the pot- smoking. "It is a daily struggle. If it's around, I just don't stay around.

"I have found a spiritual replacement," said Trudeau, who studies

Buddhism and the teachings of the Dalai Lama.

Spirituality is just one cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle that includes eating well and remembering that "your mental health is just as important as your physical health."

Trudeau said one of her aims is "to get people to start talking about mental health more openly. It should be a conversation over the kitchen table," she said.

Trudeau wants people to know that "you can change the course of a depression if you catch it early."

She advocates "recognition, acceptance and compassion" as the three fundamental elements of the disclosure and recovery process.

What she wants anyone suffering from depression or mental illness to know is, "There will be light." She has found it herself.

Trudeau, who is a committed advocate for mental health, will speak further on her own journey through mental illness at the conference in Vancouver.

The conference, which is sponsored by Great West Life, focuses on mental illness in the workplace.

For more information go to www.bottomlineconference.ca .