You have to hand it to Margaret Trudeau, honorary patron of The Royal, for choosing to see life through rose-coloured glasses.
We’re not just speaking metaphorically; she actually did wear her tinted spectacles to the Every Woman Counts networking event presented by Women for Mental Health at The Royal on Thursday. She cheerfully reported that everything looked “lovely” to a room full of women who attended the special event, intentionally held during the week-long International Women’s Day.
The atmosphere was positive, supportive and accepting. That’s because the space inside Bayview Yards, our city’s innovation hub, was filled with like-minded attendees and their desire to help science in its advancement of diagnoses and treatments for mental illness.
Among The Royal’s advocates and champions in the room was Sonya Shorey, a director with the board of The Royal’s IMHR. She works as vice president of strategy, marketing and communications for Invest Ottawa, the lead economic development agency for Canada’s capital.
“I grew up in a family that was dedicated to mental health, and we talked about many things, including all the diseases that The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research supports,” Shorey said at the podium. “I knew what schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and Huntington’s chorea was by the time I was five because we discussed it at our dinner table every evening.”
Shorey’s mom, who passed away in 2016, had been a nurse and area supervisor at the Brockville Psychiatric Hospital for many years.
What her family didn’t talk about enough, she said, were the multigenerational mental health struggles within their family. “I lost my aunt to suicide 20 years ago and my mother suffered from debilitating anxiety that prevented her from living a full and fulfilling life,” Shorey told listeners.
“I come by this very honestly and very passionately,” she said of her support for The Royal’s IMHR. “I fully believe in the research that’s being done.”
Another of the women leaders is Katherine Cooligan, a family law specialist and partner at Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG) LLP. She’s chair of the Women for Mental Health group and a board member with The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.
Cooligan has handled cases in her practice where mental illness has destroyed marriages, or where divorce has caused clients’ mental health to suffer. “I understand the impact of mental health on people’s lives,” she told OBJ.social.
Forty Under 40 2019 recipient Candace Sutcliffe, COO and co-owner of C.A. Paradis/The Chef ’s Paradise, chairs The Royal’s Ottawa Young Professionals Network. “Because it’s mental health, we don’t pay as much attention to it as we would a traditional hospital, but I think it’s really important to get the message out there, that mental health affects everybody and there are so many facets to it,” she told OBJ.social.
Supporters also included Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist/store owner Jennifer Mulley, who’s involved with the annual Shoppers Drug Mart Run for Women, in support of The Royal. It’s taking place on June 4 at LeBreton Flats. EDC Mindful Movers co-captains Jillian Porter-Kelly and Gorana Filipovic, both from Export Development Canada, hold bragging rights as last year’s top fundraising team.
Also in attendance were Dr. Florence Dzierszinski, president of The Royal’s IMHR and vice president of research at The Royal, and Dr. Jennifer Phillips, a scientist in the Mood Disorders Research Unit at The Royal’s IMHR, affiliated with the University of Ottawa.
It’s well known that Trudeau, who’s the mother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former wife of past prime minister Pierre Trudeau, received treatment at The Royal for bipolar disorder. While she’s now a proud mental health advocate, there was a time when she strongly resisted help.
“The hardest thing for me to do in my life was to find the courage to accept that I had a mental illness, that I was not in control of it no matter how much I faked it,” Trudeau told her audience. “It had control of me, and I had to get help.”
It was challenging, she said, to go from nurturing others, as a mother of five, to needing to take care of herself. Trudeau’s youngest son, Michel, was tragically killed in an avalanche in B.C. in 1998, at age 23.
She applauded the “historic” work and research being done at The Royal.
Photos were projected onto the screens throughout the evening of The Royal’s women mental health leaders from past years. The room heard from peer support workers about the good work being done at The Royal’s resource centre for women. It’s named after the late Shirley Greenberg in honour of her transformational gift to create a safe and welcoming space for women to access support. The groups have been connecting virtually during the pandemic, creating a more convenient and accessible way to come together.
“When suffering from mental illness, it’s hard to get out of the house,” said Glenda O’Hara, chair of The Royal’s client advisory council. “This way, we connect, we celebrate accomplishments and we can share each other’s troubles.”
She talked about the sense of community that the women are able to create with one another. “Someone will confess, ‘I haven’t done the dishes in a week’ and you think you’re the only one, but then everybody in the Zoom puts their hand up. It’s just such a big ‘kumbaya’ situation every Monday morning. I’m so privileged to be part of it.”
Beth Robertson, an equity, diversion and inclusion specialist with The Royal, talked about the strength of intersectionality, a concept that speaks to our diversity and differences. “Sometimes, those differencea can be a means of exclusion, can be used by people to discriminate, to offer inequitable access to essential social services, like mental health,” said Robertson.
People’s different backgrounds, perspectives and ideas should not detract from who they are but should add to what they can offer to each other, she added. “This builds upon the conversation that we’re having tonight about women and mental health care.”
The Royal is expected to start its search in the coming months for a new CEO to replace Joanne Bezzubetz, who suddenly stepped down from her leadership role last December. Serving as interim president and CEO is Pierre Noel, former head of the Pembroke Regional Hospital.