Trudeau: Comfort, alleviate suffering and offer hope

Nurses have an admirable passion, commitment and gift allowing them to help and comfort those who are suffering, said author and mental health advocate Margaret Trudeau.

Trudeau spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Health Sciences (Nursing), the Faculty of Law and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Wednesday, June 19, afternoon session of Western’s 301st Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon Trudeau in recognition of her being a dedicated advocate for people suffering from mental illness.

“You’re the ones on the front line, comforting, alleviating suffering, giving hope to those who expectedly or unexpectedly find themselves in a time of stress and fear,” Trudeau said.

The many things nurses do can seem like such small details in a day’s job, but they make a world of difference to someone getting treatment and feeling alone, she added.

Trudeau, a long-time champion and advocate of persons struggling with mental health, has not been shy about sharing her own personal story of struggle. For much of her adult life, she has dealt with debilitating effects of being bipolar and, having sought treatment, is now dedicated to helping others overcome the stigma that prevents them from seeking help. She encourages others to live a healthy life, taking care of their minds, bodies and spirits.

The former wife of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she is the mother of five children, including Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. She married Pierre Trudeau at an early age and suffered the loss of a son, Michel, to an avalanche in 1998, and Pierre Trudeau, in 2000.

Trudeau sits on the Executive Advisory Board of the University of British Columbia Mental Health Institute as a community advocate and is working with The Royal Ottawa Hospital, raising funds and awareness of mental health issues as well as a new hospital.

The author of three books, Trudeau is the honorary president of WaterCan, a charitable Canadian non-governmental agency dedicated to helping communities in developing countries build sustainable water supply and sanitation services.

Trudeau graduated from Simon Fraser University, where she studied English literature. Her most recent book, Changing My Mind, topped national best-seller charts.

Trudeau told the graduates they are lucky their education will give them a head start in alleviating suffering, adding they must not forget they can travel to help those suffering around the world.

“The openings you will have in your life are huge,” she said.

In his citation, Health Sciences Dean Jim Weese said Trudeau’s openness and honesty in sharing her struggle with bipolar disorder has made her a consistent, inspirational and effective advocate for persons living with mental illness.

“She has led a rich and interesting life, raised five children, and she has travelled the country and the world delivering a message that demystifies and reduces the stigma associated with mental illness,” he said.

“For all her adult life, Margaret has suffered from the debilitating effects of her bipolar disorder. Now, after seeking medical treatment that has given her life balance and happiness, she advocates strongly on mental health issues, helping people to overcome the stigma of mental illness that often prevents sufferers from getting help.

“Western has been a leader in delivering programs and services related to mental health and we remain committed to tackling this issue. Honouring Margaret Trudeau and her fine work in this critical area further signals Western’s interest in being a leading institution committed to providing help to those who need it,” Weese added.

Trudeau added graduates must remember to take time for themselves, and have fun, no matter where they go.

“You will be a witness to suffering. You will feel the pain. While your profession is so wonderful and the work you’re going to do is so purposeful and necessary, you will have to balance it. Get a good night’s sleep. Brain health is as important as any part of our health. Eat well, sleep well and play well.”

Also during the ceremony, the status of professor emerita was conferred upon Nursing professor Carol McWilliam.