Sophie Grégoire Trudeau calls herself “an activist for women’s empowerment and gender equality” and has spoken out a number of times about her struggles with bulimia and anorexia. Most recently she spoke at an event called “Girlfriend’s Guide to Mental Health” in Ottawa.
While I’m sure her “philosophy of promoting strong mental health for girls and women of all ages” is appealing to some wealthy women with self-esteem issues, all I could do when I read about it was roll my eyes.
Trudeau’s approach is completely individualist, over-simplistic and useless for most of us who struggle with anxiety, depression, and trauma. It’s also not new.
Based on what is reported in the media, Trudeau has never proposed anything beyond “talking” as a solution. While basic communication is obviously important, and talking through feelings can help people process them, it is not a solution to mood disorders in and of itself. If it was, we would all be a lot healthier.
People with mood disorders usually need stable housing, professional counselling, fair wages, appropriate health care (physical and mental), disability accommodations, and a guarantee that their safety will not be taken from them if and when they can’t work. Not to mention an end to systemic homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, and other common sources of trauma.
These kinds of systemic solutions are continually erased by politicians and by campaigns like “Bell Let’s Talk”, putting the onus on the individual to find the solution for themselves through asking for help and talking about it openly with friends. This is usually just another form of “just get over it” that doesn’t work for mental illness, just like it wouldn’t work for the flu.
A systemic problem requires systemic solutions.
And no wonder that a person like Trudeau, who can afford nannies and wears designer clothes, can’t possibly understand the struggles of people who suffer the most from mental illness.
The Ottawa Citizen reported that “As a mother of three and the wife to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Grégoire Trudeau has also had a front-row seat to the challenges and struggles facing families living with someone who suffers from a mental illness.”
This is completely absurd. How does being the Prime Minister’s wife give insight into people with mental illness? Mental illness disproportionately affects people of colour, indigenous people, queer and trans folks, and people with disabilities. Trudeau has no authority to speak for any of those people.
Of course it is okay for Trudeau to talk about her own experience, but she’s being treated by the Ottawa Citizen and the Huffington Post like she’s Canada’s representative for mental health, while her experiences are anything but representative. And given how unoriginal her ideas are, there’s no way the media would be interested in hearing from her if she wasn’t the Prime Minister’s wife.
It is also telling that while Trudeau loves talking about talking, her husband’s government is not listening to those who have been asking for concrete solutions. They love to talk about mental health, but true solutions will not come without systemic change to our economic system — something the Liberals are obviously not interested in.
Trudeau’s “activism” makes it appear that there is a response. It makes Liberal voters feel good about who they’ve put in power.
But talking about self-esteem is not a solution. We need people to listen to us, to hear the diversity of experience that is living with mental illness, to respect the wealth and complexity of the knowledge that we have, and to provide us with real support for our mental and physical well-being.
Our lives depend on it.