Carrie Fisher’s Most Important Role: Confronting Stigma and Reducing Shame on Addiction & Mental Illness

It has been almost three months since the beloved and talented Carrie Fisher passed away. Fisher was a fearless reporter of her own struggles with mental illness – an extraordinary force for its normalization and humanization. She was an inspiration to so many as to how to speak about the struggles of mental illness and addiction – she offered hope for those dealing with the immense societal stigma that followed them.

This excerpt from her book “Wishful Drinking perfectly sums up our feelings about the importance of being proud of being in recovery and serving as an advocate to bring others still suffering from addiction into the light:

“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 duty in Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). 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.”

“At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge..”

The actress and author, who died at the young age of 60 after suffering a cardiac arrest, battled relentlessly against the stigma on mental illness, and to raise awareness for the need for treatment. At 29, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, an illness characterized by episodes of depression and mania. Throughout her life, she used her trademark humor and candor to shed light on the condition, and convey the powerful, life-changing message that there is no shame in a mental health diagnosis.

She knew that many, particularly women, were seen as ‘emotional and moral failings rather than serious medical conditions’ and for this reason, Carrie made it her sole mission to use her platform to speak against those who shunned upon those suffering; she chose to confront mental illness and addiction head-on; that she chose to speak about it, in all its complexities, and confusions.

One month before she passed, Fisher stated, “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.”

New Directions for Women would like to honor and thank Fisher for being so honest and open about her struggles with mental illness and addiction. She will forever serve as a constant reminder that addiction does not discriminate – no one is immune to addiction. It afflicts people of all ages, races, classes, and professions.

Need help with substance use disorder or related issues? New Directions for Women has been serving women, children and their families for over four decades. Call to help yourself or a loved one at 1-800-93-WOMEN today.

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