[Video] Carrie Fisher Will Be Remembered as a Leader of Mental Health

Just a couple days after Christmas, the world said goodbye to Carrie Fisher, best known and beloved for her role as Princess Leia in “Star Wars” but even more so later on as a champion advocate for mental health. The exact cause of Fisher’s death remains unknown, but it was likely in relation to the heart attack she had suffered just days before her passing.

Beyond Princess Leia, Fisher’s influence as an author and screenwriter who strived to destigmatize mental illness has touched the lives of many people living with addiction and bipolar disorder. Her books “Postcards from the Edge” and “Wishful Drinking” revea
l her own struggles, and she was also featured in an Emmy Award-winning BBC documentary called “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive.”

In opening up about her life, people have come to characterize Carrie Fisher not as an individual will illness, but rather a “compassionate, funny, deeply flawed, deeply brave, slightly inappropriate, big-hearted, bipolar human,” according to the Harvard Gazette.

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder most characterized by dramatic mood swings, from depressing lows to manic highs, amongst other symptoms. Patients experience a wide range of emotions from unimaginable euphoria to indescribable despair. While this emotional range is vast, the reality of mood shifts varies by the individual in severity and frequency. Some patients experience mood shifts as frequently as several times a day, while others just a couple times a year.

Through her works, Fisher has been hailed as a “real hero” and an “incredible ally” to people struggling with mental health issues for being open about her own lifelong troubles with bipolar disorder, depression, and addiction. One of her more recent sharings is featured on her Ask Carrie Fisher advice column with the Guardian released November 30, in which she addressed the question: “I’m Bi-Polar – how do you feel at peace with mental illness?”

Fisher poignantly responded to the recently diagnosed 20-something year old young man struggling to balance his disorder with the other variables of life – responsibilities at school, work, and home – with an open, honest, and unabashed answer: “We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not “I survived living in Mosul during an attack” heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder. That’s why it’s important to find a community – however small – of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.”[Video] RIP Carrie Fisher: You'll Be Remembered as a Leader of Mental Health

Fisher goes on with her encouragement to reveal her positive outlook, even in what many would consider a dire circumstance: “You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it. You can let it all fall down and feel defeated and hopeless and that you’re done. But you reached out to me – that took courage. Now build on that. Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do.”

Honest and open interactions like these, which are a rarity in the celebrity community, are reason for why Fisher has been celebrated and cherished in the mental health circle. Comedian Margaret Cho praises, “I thought she was so brave and so amazing. The way that she talked about her issues without shame and without any sense that she needed to apologize for herself or be afraid. I think that gives people so much hope. We’re all different, and mental illness is real. There’s nothing to be afraid or ashamed of,” Cho told TODAY. For so many, Fisher was a figure we could count on to share her valuable hard-learned lessons.

Bio, an online journal for celebrity biographies, notes that it was this year that Harvard College presented Fisher with its Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism, highlighting that “her forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness, and agnosticism have advanced public discourse on these issues with creativity and empathy.”

Carrie Fisher was not ashamed of who she was. She knew that life is hard, and in sharing her own struggles, became a leading role model for people dealing with mental illness to recognize and rehabilitate through their own issues. She encouraged people to reach out and share as well, building a community around mental illness that is not stigmatized or judged. She is a reminder that we are all human, and that we all have unique hardships that sometimes can only be solved through community. Princess Leia was a true princess, after all.

People who suffer from bipolar are significantly more likely to self-medicate or develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol than the normal population in an attempt to regulate their mood swings. Fortunately, there are many effective therapies that have been developed to help regulate in managing the “highs and lows” to normalize a patient’s life. If you notice dramatic, unmanageable mood swings in yourself or loved one, the most important thing is to start the conversation. Genuine acknowledgment of oneself is always the first step on the path to recovery.

Did you know an addiction can be caused by a mental disorder?

One of the primary reasons that mental disorders and substance abuse so often go hand-in-hand is that drugs and alcohol can provide an escape from the pressures of mental health problems. Self-medicating is surprisingly common: you’re not alone.

But unlike real, effective, long-term solutions, such as medication and detoxification in a treatment center, drugs and alcohol won’t amount to effective treatment.

If you suspect that your loved one is suffering from addiction, then take our free 3 minute assessment.


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