Carrie Fisher Was a Champion for Mental Health, Too

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Many “Star Wars” fans know her as Princess Leia, but others remember actress Carrie Fisher as a passionate mental health advocate.

Actress Carrie Fisher appears in a 2007 photo. (Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Actress Carrie Fisher appears in a 2007 photo. (Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Fisher died Tuesday morning at age 60 after suffering a massive heart attack days earlier aboard an airplane traveling to Los Angeles.

Throughout her life, Fisher was outspoken about her struggles with bipolar disorder, addiction and alcoholism.

After her death, fans on Twitter remembered her advocacy.

Fisher spoke about her mental health with biting wit and honesty.

“I didn’t like illegal drugs. I liked legal drugs. So I liked medicine, because I like the philosophy of it. You’re going to feel better when you take two or eight of these, and I always wanted to feel better,” Fisher said of her addiction to prescription drugs during a 1990 interview with CNN’s Larry King.

“One of the side effects of Percodan is euphoria, and I thought that was a side effect that I could easily live with,” she said of the narcotic painkiller. “Doesn’t matter that the rest of them that follow that are palpitations, heart attack and death. I couldn’t get over euphoria. Now, I just drive with the radio up really loud or do a relaxing talk show when I really want to feel great and like myself.”

Here is a look back at times when Fisher shed light on mental health and addiction — and a need for awareness.

‘I am mentally ill. … I am not ashamed of that’

Fisher has said she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 24.

She disclosed her long battle with bipolar disorder and addiction in a December 2000 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer on “PrimeTime.”

Fisher said she used to take 30 Percodan daily to try to manage her manic state. In the years that followed her prescription drug abuse, doctors helped her improve her health and maintain a recommended medication regimen.

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

In 2001, the National Alliance on Mental Illness honored Fisher with its Rona and Ken Purdy Award for her contribution in helping end mental health discrimination and stigma.

‘A tremendous amount of balls’

Fisher opened up about her life and struggles in the 2006 one-woman biographical play “Wishful Drinking,” which was turned into a memoir in 2009 and then a documentary in 2010. In another book, “Postcards from the Edge,” which was turned into a film, Fisher wrote about drug addiction.

In “Wishful Drinking,” Fisher 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). 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.”

‘Princess Leia is bipolar, too’

When Harvard College’s Humanist Hub honored Fisher with an Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism in April, she shed light on her addictions and mental illness in her acceptance speech.

“I’ve never been ashamed of my mental illness; it never occurred to me,” Fisher said, according to the Harvard Gazette. “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.”

‘They really did heal me’

Fisher spoke often about the importance of treatment for mental health disorders. An effective treatment plan for bipolar disorder usually includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut, celebrated Fisher as an alumna for her “honest examination of her own mental illnesses, laconic wit and deadpan humor” during a gala in 2011.

Fisher credits the psychiatric hospital with helping improve her health after she received treatment for alcohol addiction and bipolar disorder.

“They really did heal me,” Fisher said during the gala. “It was one of the best places I was ever institutionalized.”

‘Mommy is gone’

Fisher created Instagram and Twitter accounts for her French bulldog, Gary, who accompanied Fisher to various public appearances, from book signings to interviews.

After her death, a tweet on Gary’s account said, “Saddest tweets to tweet. Mommy is gone. I love you.”

Gary’s popularity in the public eye might have raised awareness for the therapeutic role that animals can play in helping people with mental health disorders. Indeed, people with certain psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder, may benefit from interaction with animals, according to the International Bipolar Foundation.

“He’s very soothing to have around,” Fisher told NPR’s Terry Gross in a November interview.