Carrie Fisher holds a very special place in our hearts. To many people, she was simply Princess Leia turned General Organa from the Star Wars films — the fiercely independent, Han Solo-loving rebel. To others, she was the talented daughter of Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher. But to us, she was always a badass mental health advocate and overall winner at life.
Carrie spent decades speaking candidly about her battles with addiction and bipolar disorder. And by doing so, she ushered in a new, groundbreaking period in Hollywood where it became okay for other celebs — like Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Kristen Bell and Cara Delevingne — to talk publicly about mental illnesses. Not only did she leave us with her role in the Star Wars films, but she taught us these important mental health-related lessons too:
Honesty is the best policy
Carrie always used blunt honesty to address her inner tribulations with mental illness. She once told Diane Sawyer, “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.”
Studies show that many people living with mental disorders don’t seek treatment because of the negative connotations and stigma surrounding psychiatric vulnerability. In her book Wishful Drinking, she wrote, “One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside).” She went on to say that “if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
You know the often-repeated phrase by Oscar Wilde, “Be Yourself; Everyone else is already taken?” Well Carrie Fisher never strayed from revealing her true, authentic self — and was healthier in the long-term as a result. In her final memoir, The Princess Diarist, Carrie wrote that she could have become famous through her parents or celebrity wife status (from her short-lived marriage to singer/songwriter Paul Simon), but chose instead to reinvent herself as, well, her true bipolar-addled self.
Pets are a (sick) girl’s best friend
Carrie’s dog Gary went everywhere she went. He walked red carpets with her, sat on stage with her at conventions and even had his own Twitter account.
“He’s very soothing to have around,” Carrie said about her dog in an NPR interview. In fact, research has shown that there are surprising health benefits of owning a pet. It turns out that living with a dog or cat helps to lower blood pressure and heart rate, lessens anxiety and even helps you get a better sleep.
Shock therapy (ECT) isn’t an archaic and medieval way of getting help
In one of her final interviews, Carrie Fisher was asked by Rolling Stone what the biggest misconceptions about shock therapy are.
“It’s very easy and very effective. And it’s not used as punishment by nurses in a mental hospital when you’re bad, which is how it’s depicted in literally every movie, both contemporary and past,” she answered. “I was depressed, and it ended the depression. I couldn’t fix it. Medication couldn’t fix it. Therapy couldn’t fix it. That did.”
Pay it forward
Carrie had a regular column in Guardian called “Advice from the dark side” where she extolled life lessons with a dash of her acerbic wit. Like she had so many times before, she spoke about the extreme highs and lows of her bipolar disorder and helped many to see that they weren’t alone in their suffering. When she passed away, writer Julie DiCaro created #InHonorOfCarrie on Twitter and opened a floodgate of messages as people discussed their own mental health battles to help other people. Because, as demonstrated by Carrie, being open about a personal struggle is the ultimate act of therapy for oneself and for those who listen.
Carrie Fisher will be deeply missed, but her legacy continues to live on in all of us.
There are the blues and then there’s depression. Feeling down in the dumps is one thing, but when it impacts every aspect of one’s life and there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, well, that’s a whole other beast. Depression is a serious disorder and an ever-growing epidemic; at this moment, some three million Canadians are suffering from depression. It can happen to anyone, anywhere – even those who seem to have it all. Yes, celebs get depressed, too. There are a lot of stars who have battled with mental illness, and not one dealt with it in the same way. Not only are you not alone, but you’re in good company.
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 31, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Instagram or Facebook, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.