How Carrie Fisher was an advocate for mental health
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It's portentous that Carrie Fisher was cast in Star Wars, a futuristic adventure saga, when she proved to be a pioneer in her own right. She battled against the Dark Side of the Force in “Star Wars”, while, in real life, she battled an internal, more difficult, fight against an unseen villain. A battle that she launched openly and publicly despite the great stigma to which it is attached.

Bravely, Fisher advocated to unveil the stigma associated with bipolar disorder and mental illness, risking the impact it would have on her professional career, by choosing instead to stand, as one, with those afflicted survivors. Bipolar affects 5.7 million American adults over the age of eighteen.

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Bipolar disorder is characterized by mood swings between mania and depression. Fisher aptly called these changeable mood states,  rollicking Roy and sediment Pam.

Though Fisher spoke of her circumstance with a light-hearted resilience, what she suffered was in fact tremendously burdensome. During episodes of mania people often engage in activities with a high probability for negative outcomes. As an advocate, Fisher spoke openly about the difficulties of her substance abuse during these periods.

In many, these episodes also coincide with promiscuity, spending sprees, illegal behaviors or intense family conflict. Behavior during manic phases is often unpredictable and may seem impulsive or out of character, similar to how Fisher described impulsively getting a tattoo or hacking off her hair.

Sleep is often elusive during these episodes, frequently influencing  a desire to use substances. Periods of depression in those suffering from bipolar disorder can feel like the floor has dropped out from under them. Uncontrollable crying jags, moods of despair and hopelessness and suicidal thoughts may also occur.

Fisher sharing her personal testimony of living with mental illness in documented interviews is a testament to her passionate desire to expose and confront the reality of mental health — bipolar disorder in particular. She understood the importance of discussing this issue transparently, as up to 50 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once over the course of their lifetime.

Fisher talked about how bipolar can masquerade as substance abuse and eloquently normalized the highs and lows of mania and depression so that all people could hear and understand. She openly discussed the importance of medicine - her own positive experiences with lithium (a "cadillac" of bipolar medicines that has become vilified to the populace over the years) —  and the value of therapy as well as a relationship with a therapist.

A bright star went out when she left this world. Let the legacy of her teachings and the value of her lessons live on. Let’s raise a glass in the new year and toast a true pioneer — remembering that her advocacy lives on by keeping the lines of communication around mental health open and by continuing to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness — in honor of her life and work. She made the unspoken, spoken. She made the unseen, seen. She made the taboo, table talk. Fisher was a pioneer in her own right, long before starships took to the stars.

Dr. Jennifer Guttman, PsyD is a clinical psychologist and cognitive-behaviorist, with over 20 years of experience in the field of mental health. With a Doctorate in psychology, Dr. Guttman provides psychological services to over 120 clients at her private practices in New York City and Connecticut.


 

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