Carrie Fisher’s Legacy Includes Battles Against Mental Health Stigma

Carrie Fisher Was A Symbol For Those Who Struggle With Mental Health

The world lost a great one. The latest to fall was Carrie Fisher. Fisher had a heart attack while boarding a plan and ended up passing just a few days later. This came after reports surfaced that she had been stabilized in the hospital.

It seems to have been 2016’s theme as more and more iconic figures passed with each day passing on the calendar.

Harrison Ford, as Han Solo of “Star Wars” with Carrie Fisher in the filming of the CBS-TV special “The Star Wars Holiday” Nov. 13, 1978. Ford says he leaves the singing in the special to Carrie, who is the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. The film will also feature many special effects not seen on the original movie. (AP Photo/George Brich)

The outpouring of support and tributes has been numerous. Fisher’s Princess Leia character inspired little girls everywhere and may have turned the heads of prepubescent boys too. The Star Wars protagonist showed what a strong independent woman could do as she fought against the evil Empire. One of the other things that people fondly remember her for was her charming personality and sense of humor. It was sometimes bizarre but something that was a bit of a trademark.

“Now I think that this would make for a fantastic obit — so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra,” Fisher wrote in her 2009 memoir. This came after Star Wars’ film director George Lucas explained that wearing a bra in space would strangle her due to the weightlessness of space. That was Carrie Fisher in a nutshell.

But another aspect of Fisher has been her struggle with bipolar disorder and how she has publicly battled the stigma of mental health. It’s well documented that Fisher struggled with addiction and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But that didn’t stop her from being the charming strong woman that many know her for today. In fact, she embraced it and helped battle the stigma surrounded by mental health. The stigma being no one wants to talk about it but she went out of her way to talk about it.

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Carrie Fisher, from left, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford attend Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” panel on day 2 of Comic-Con International on Friday, July 10, 2015, in San Diego, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

“I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital,” Fisher said in 2002 ABC interview with Diane Sawyer.

Part of the way, she talked about the illness helped give insight into what a bipolar goes through. In her 2009 memoir, she shed light on the battle that many people struggle with and why some end up turning to drugs in the process.

“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 wrote. “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.”

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FILE – In this July 10, 2015 file photo, Carrie Fisher, from left, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford attend Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” panel on day 2 of Comic-Con International in San Diego, Calif. Ford stars as Hans Solo in the new film, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” releasing in U.S. theaters on Dec. 18, 2015. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

She not only shed light on her fight with her bipolar disorder but she took ownership of it. She became a symbol for all of those who struggled with mental illness and she showed that it’s more than okay to talk about these types of problems. Not only that, she showed true courage by publicly accepting her illness, a kind of courage that was Fisher’s brand and trademark.

“I’ve never been ashamed of my mental illness; it never occurred to me,” Fisher said, according to the Harvard Gazette back in April. “Many people thank me for talking about it, and mothers can tell their kids when they are upset with the diagnosis that Princess Leia is bipolar, too.”

People will remember Carrie Fisher for her role as Princess Leia. They will remember Princess Leia for being a strong symbol of a powerful woman, as they should. But let’s not forget Carrie Fisher. Let’s not forget about the woman who braved the world through her wit and charm and conquered her demons all the way until the end.

“I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that,” she said in that same interview so long ago with Sawyer. “I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”

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Thomas Fernandez is the managing editor for Sports Talk Florida and News Talk Florida. He started his career in media by covering the NHL and the Tampa Bay Lightning. After covering the NHL for two years, he hopped on board the news cycle and has been covering both sports and news for the last year. He has covered major sporting events as well as politics which affects the Florida audience. Thomas is a Tampa native and graduate of the University of South Florida with a bachelor of arts in Public Relations.