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How Carrie Fisher Helped Break Down The Stigma Around Mental Illness

Fisher was one of the first Hollywood icons to talk openly about living with bipolar disorder.

Carrie Fisher is best known for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, though she was an incredibly accomplished actor and writer across a range of fields.

Fisher starred in dozens of films and TV shows, she wrote fiction novels and memoirs, and she edited screenplays for a number of hugely successful films including Sister Act and The Wedding Singer.

Fisher was also one of the first Hollywood icons to talk openly about her experiences with mental health issues and de-stigmatise discussions around bipolar disorder.

“I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital,” Fisher said in an interview in 2000.

“I used to think I was a drug addict, pure and simple — just someone who could not stop taking drugs willfully,” Fisher said. “And I was that. But it turns out that I am severely manic depressive.”

Fisher documented her experiences with drug addiction in the novel Postcards from the Edge, which was later turned into a film starring Meryl Streep.

“The world of manic depression is a world of bad judgment calls,” Fisher said back in 2000. “Just every kind of bad judgement because it all seems like a good idea at the time.

“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.”

Fisher fought publicly to help end the stigma around mental illness, writing in her 2008 bookWishful Drinking: 

“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. At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so 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.”

She also featured in Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, and spoke to Fry about what living with bipolar disorder was like.

Earlier this year Harvard awarded Fisher with its Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism and acknowledged her “forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness and agnosticism have advanced public discourse on these issues with creativity and empathy.”

Fisher also wrote an advice column for The Guardian. In her final column, published this November, Fisher responded to a reader who was also living with bipolar disorder.

“Dear Alex, you’re lucky to have been diagnosed as bipolar and accepted that diagnosis at such a young age,” she wrote. “I was told that I was bipolar when I was 24 but was unable to accept that diagnosis until I was 28 when I overdosed and finally got sober.

“You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it. You can let it all fall down and feel defeated and hopeless and that you’re done. But you reached out to me – that took courage. Now build on that. Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do.”