For the blog’s final post of 2016, I wanted to pay tribute to Carrie Fisher. Although like many people, I grew up in the shadow of the original Star Wars trilogy, I also knew that she developed a second career as a writer, but most importantly….she was a strong advocate for mental health services.
You’ll be reading many tributes to Carrie Fisher’s history of mental health advocacy, but this one will be slightly different….especially in light of a particular meme that’s being repeated. It’s encapsulated in this article which claims that “2016 Is Not Killing People”…but that alcoholism and drug abuse are the primary culprits, and that somehow the addicted person is to blame.
However, Carrie Fisher has not only been honest about her substance use…she’s also made a great point about how addiction can often be separated from other mental health issues. In her writings and her public persona, she spoke often about being “bipolar”….a now cliche term that refers to what we would consider “manic depression.” Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of extreme behavior: highly energetic and “up” behavior (manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” followed by periods of extreme dejection, sorrow, hopelessness (depressive episodes).
Fisher was not only open about it, it was honest. Carrie Fisher often discussed how her mental health issues made an impact on her overall self-perception from body image to family dynamics. She often explained how several of these factors played a role into her overall well-being, but most importantly, she advocated that mental illness and addiction were both diseases that could be treated. In short, Carrie Fisher saw her bipolar disorder and her addiction as mental health issues….issues that needed direct intervention.
One of the other strengths that Carrie Fisher brought to her advocacy for mental health and chemical dependency treatment was a strong sense of humor. At one point, she stated that she wanted to be a centerfold for Psychology Today; she also named one of her memoirs (later to become an HBO documentary) Wishful Drinking. Carrie Fisher also had her own column that focused on mental health and other critical issues. Granted, she faced her mental health issues with a dark sense of humor and a sharp tongue, but Carrie Fisher managed to put these issues into perspective.
So now what? In Chicago, we have several organizations that focus on mental health services that we encourage you to support (either financially or as a volunteer). Like we mentioned in a previous blog just before the election, these organizations will need your help. Although this video happened in a slightly different context, it demonstrates how Donald Trump will, most likely, regard mental health and funding for agencies like SAMHSA:
As 2016 comes to a close, it’s easy to forget that celebrity deaths should have a meaning other than celebrity. For artists like David Bowie and Prince, that legacy is creativity in music. For Carrie Fisher, it’s more than just a role in an iconic movie franchise….it’s a wide-ranging impact on how we view mental health.
And that is the legacy of Carrie Fisher that needs to be carried into the New Year.