Carrie Fisher Should Be Celebrated Not Just As A Cultural Icon, But As An Advocate For Mental Health

Always creative, always empathetic, always real.

On Dec. 27, 2016, actress, bestselling author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away in the hospital, days after going into cardiac arrest on a Dec. 23 flight from London to Los Angeles. She was 60. The beloved actress will be remembered for her roles in such films as Star Wars, Shampoo, The Blues Brothers, Hannah and Her Sisters, and When Harry Met Sally. 

But her impact reached far beyond the screen — she was also a powerful advocate for mental health. As a public figure and writer, she had a unique platform to reach millions and bring awareness to the approximate 26.2 percent of Americans, ages 18 and older, who live with mental health issues. Fisher spoke openly about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder aka manic depression at the age of 24, and her drug addictions as forms of self-medication, delving into these topics in interviews, her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge, her 2008 memoir Wishful Drinkingand in her 2016 memoir The Princess Diarist She even spoke publicly about her electroconvulsive therapy in her 2011 memoir Shockaholic.

"I used to think I was a drug addict, pure and simple — just someone who could not stop taking drugs willfully. And I was that. But it turns out that I am severely manic depressive," she told ABC's Diane Sawyer in a 2000 interview. 



“I outlasted my problems. I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”

Throughout the years, her positive words have deeply impacted our views on mental health and drug addiction. She gave a voice to those often unheard or too afraid to speak out because of stigma surrounding these topics.  She took concerted action to create more resources to help people like her, and in 2001, she called for increased state funding for addiction and mental illness treatment at a rally of nearly 2,000 in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

"Medication has made me a good mother, a good friend, a good daughter," she said, according to The Associated Press. Her actions were recognized a year later, when she was honored at the Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards luncheon in 2001. 

Furthermore, Fisher helped foster communities for those seeking support. Describing her manic depression helped those with similar experiences know they are not alone, and in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE's Elizabeth Leonard, she opened up about one such episode on a cruise ship, saying, "I do know this — and it was really bizarre — I was trapped in a metaphor. Everything I looked at had a meaning. Everything was a warning or a sign. I was in a part of my brain I've only been in one time before." 

In a 2016 Guardian column, she wrote about how support groups helped her get through. "Going to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] helped me to see that there were other people who had problems that had found a way to talk about them and find relief and humor through that," she wrote.

That same year, Harvard College gave Fisher its Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism. 

"Her forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness, and agnosticism have advanced public discourse on these issues with creativity and empathy," stated Harvard College.

Fisher will of course be celebrated as a cultural icon, but we cannot forget her amazing contributions to the mental health community, and all that she stood for. 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with mental health issues or drug addiction, there are a number of resources available to provide support. Check them out here or here. 

Cover image via JStone I Shutterstock.

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