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An old homeless man named Charlie showed compassion and actually saved her life, says actress Margot Kidder about her infamous 1996 mental breakdown on the streets of Los Angeles.

Addressing a major health and safety conference of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association on Wednesday, the Canadian-born film and TV star spoke frankly about her "big, public flipout" in which she was found wandering L.A. terrified and convinced her ex-husband was the head of the CIA and was out to kill her.

"You should have seen my crazy days, I'll tell you," she told her receptive audience. "I've had 10 years now, this week actually, 10 years without a manic or depressive episode, which is for me such a miracle!"

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Kidder was given a standing ovation for her remarks, a variation on her campaign on behalf of natural herbs and nutrients as a preferred substitute to psychiatry and pharmaceuticals to treat problems like manic depression and schizophrenia.

Recalling how Charlie took her to a homeless village under a freeway overpass, fed her, gave her a place to sleep, and basically treated her like a human being, she urged her listeners to think twice before walking away or showing contempt for homeless people on the street.

"We are all, each and every one of you in this place, are a breath away from mental illness, homelessness, all of these things we tend to so look down on.

"Give that woman a couple of bucks, give her a loonie, a toonie, and say something to her.

"We are all one human family and we really have to take care of each other," said Kidder, who is famous for her role as Lois Lane in the 1970s-'80s Superman movies.

Kidder said for each sufferer the causes and solutions of the mental demons may differ, but what are often diagnosed as causes are actually results. Most mental illnesses have an organic cause, she believes, and proposes checking for issues like food allergies, air pollution, bacterial infections, toxins, blood sugar problems and gastrointestinal damage.

Watch not for mood swings, she said, but excessive use of sugar, diet colas and coffee.

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"Very few people with extremely healthy bodies end up mentally ill."

Dr. David Goldbloom, senior medical adviser for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said he has no quarrel with the film personality describing what worked for her and he's glad for her. But he said there's a danger in extrapolation and believing that her homeopathic treatments would work for everybody.

"That's not how medicine moves forward," Goldbloom said. "She's a big movie star. Are they there (the convention audience) because she's a health expert or are they there because she was Lois Lane?"

He also took issue with the statement that few physically healthy people end up mentally ill.

"There are people who are 'living right' in terms of their diet, in terms of exercise and activity, who still may experience episodes of mental illness. I wish that just living right was a cure for a whole bunch of ills we face."

Kidder has been a supporter and spokesperson for Safe Harbor, an L.A.-based non-profit group that supports non-drug treatments for mental health problems.

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