Former Norwegian Prime Minister in Duluth, Minn.

Kjell-Magne Bondevik served two terms as Prime Minister of Norway between 1997 and 2005. But in 1998, he took a leave of absence to battle depression. Bondevik was the first prime minister to openly discuss his mental illness.

“If you are open and share the burden with others, it’s the starting point for recovery,” he said.

People around the world were shocked to hear a political leader admit his struggles with depression. Bondevik sees mental health as a human rights issue, but the negative stigma around mental illness prevents people from seeking treatment.

“Twenty to twenty five percent of population in many countries have a mental health problem, bigger or smaller, during their lifetime,” said Bondevik.

Bondevik is now the President of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights. He’s traveled to many countries in recent years, sharing his story. He says his openness has helped people cope with their own mental health challenges.

“It helped them to talk about it with family members, to go to a doctor,” Bondevik said. “I had the same experience in Norway.”

Bondevik came to Duluth to promote awareness and understanding for mental illness. And also to help raise money for a new outpatient mental health facility at Miller Dwan specifically designed for children and adolescents.

“The situation in many countries is specialty treatment for younger people is not built out the way it should be,” said Bondevik. “The earlier they get the proper treatment the better.”

Bondevik says it’s clear people of all ages are struggling with mental illness and not getting the help they deserve. But with openness and acceptance, that could start to change.

Bondevik plans to take his message about depression next to Minneapolis, then California and New York.


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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.