The Force Was Strong With Her: How Carrie Fisher Struck Back By Opening Up
December 29, 2016
Just like Princess Leia, she was passionate, fierce and fearless. As we grapple with the loss of Carrie Fisher, who died this week following a heart attack, we reflect on her legacy of openness in the service of change.
Fisher will forever be remembered as Princess Leia from a galaxy far, far away. Beyond the Star Wars franchise, Fisher was also an accomplished novelist, screenwriter, and a mental health advocate. As the daughter of Hollywood power couple – actress Debbie Fisher and singer Eddie Fisher – she was born into the public eye, which may have prepared her both for stardom, and her capacity to go public with what many would consider a private matter.
“Princess Leia would have gotten through being bipolar and an addict in the same way I did,” Fisher said in an NPR interview.
Sharing a Private Struggle
Fisher, 60, candidly shared her struggles with depression and bipolar disorder in media interviews and also in her books. It may have been cathartic for Fisher to ink the semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from The Edge and her comedy show, “Wishful Drinking,” which she eventually turned into a memoir. Her new autobiography, The Princess Diarist, has become a bestseller.
“Fisher’s tireless advocacy efforts are a shining example of how high-profile openness and transparency can lead to increased awareness, empathy, and change.”
Although most would shy away from opening up about mental illness, rather than avoid personal issues, the actress showed great courage in coming forward and using her celebrity as a platform to advocate for mental health and substance abuse awareness. Throughout her life, she openly discussed her substance abuse struggles and treatment, and hospitalization.
The witty author was featured on the Emmy Award-winning BBC documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, which destigmatized mental illness. Fisher was among several celebrities who shared their experiences of wrestling with health and medical conditions while living in a public spotlight on the Discovery Health Channel show Medical Profile.
Fisher’s tireless advocacy efforts are a shining example of how high-profile openness and transparency can lead to increased awareness, empathy, and change. Her voice contributed to greater public awareness of mental health and substance abuse issues, emphasized the challenge of stigma related to illness and treatment, as well as the need for increased access to programs and services.
Several organizations recognized the mental health advocate for her efforts. In 2016, Fisher won an Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism for her “forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness and agnosticism have advanced public discourse on these issues with creativity and empathy.” In 2012, Fisher won the Kim Peek Award for Disability in Media.
In an advice column for The Guardian, Fisher responded to a request for advice on how to live with bipolar disorder. “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,” Fisher advised. “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.”
And that’s what Fisher did. She devoted her high-profile platform to raising awareness, changing attitudes and expanding support for mental health.
We’ll miss you, Carrie Fisher. May the Force be with you.