Margaret Trudeau says community support helped her live with bipolar disorder

Margaret Trudeau spoke this morning on Daybreak Montreal about suffering from and living with mental illness. CBC Montreal's Sing-In holiday charity drive is raising funds for Project PAL, an organization that helps people with mental illnesses get on their feet. (Sophie Tremblay/CBC)

Margaret Trudeau suffered in silence from her bipolar disorder for years before coming out publicly in 2006.

After the death of her son Michel in 1998 and her ex-husband and former prime minister Pierre Trudeau just two years later, Margaret sought treatment for an illness she had battled without help for so long.

She checked herself into the Royal Ottawa Hospital in 2001 and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly thereafter.

“I had no idea there was such a thin line between sanity and insanity. I got pushed right to the edge by tragedy in my life, and I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t recover,” she told CBC Montreal Daybreak host Mike Finnerty this morning.

“I was so surprised, astonished, when I lost my mind, because I didn’t think that I ever would. I assumed I would always be just fine,” she continued.

Trudeau had nothing but praise for Project PAL, the charity chosen this year to benefit from CBC Montreal’s annual Sing-In.

Project PAL emerged to fill a void left by a push for de-institutionalization in the 1970s that left many people with mental health issues to fend for themselves.

Founded by a social worker and former patients, the bilingual organization first aimed to help those leaving hospital find housing.

Now more than 50 people rely on its supportive housing service and would most likely be homeless if it wasn’t available, said Project PAL coordinator Angela Murphy.

Trudeau said that, for years, she had difficulty in admitting she had a mental illness. She made for good tabloid fodder in the 1970s, during which time she was known for behaving erratically and going on numerous “escapades” while Prime Minister Trudeau was in office.

She has attributed much of her wild behaviour to her then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder. She was able to come to grips with the illness when, after checking herself into the hospital, she realized everyone around her was suffering in the same way.

She said she realizes she was particularly fortunate to be able to reclaim her life — and her family — after leaving hospital. She said she had community support to thank for that.

“You need community support. You’re pretty defeated when you’re laid low with a mental illness. It’s a frightening place to be, and to get up and be able to stand and to move forward and to start functioning again, you need so much support,” she said. “You need to feel you’re not alone.”

Go here to see our live CBC Montreal Sing-In blog.