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Carrie Fisher - Advocate for People Living with Mental Illness

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As an almost 40-year-old male, I vividly recall the time in history when Princess Leia was a very big deal.

The character played by actress Carrie Fisher in the iconic Star Wars films of the 1970s and 80s instantly brings images of beauty, grace, humour and strength to the forefront.

As a young boy, it was this character that introduced me to Ms. Fisher, the actress. However, years later I view that character of Princess Leia as the lesser of the notable roles played by the actress who died suddenly on December 27, 2016 at the age of 60.

In the years after she became internationally famous for her portrayal of Princess Leia, Ms. Fisher earned kudos and adulation from those of us in the mental health sector for her dedication as an advocate for people living with mental illness.

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Ms. Fisher struggled with substance abuse and addiction during the height of her celebrity. While her struggles were kept out of the public eye, she chose a different route to disclose her recovery.

She spoke openly about both her struggles with mental illness and her treatment, which included electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Always an entertainer, Ms. Fisher penned a memoir in 2008 based on her one-woman play called ‘Wishful Drinking’ which used humour to detail her celebrity, personal life and struggles with mental illness.  It was eventually filmed as a documentary and aired on HBO in the U.S. and on The Movie Network in Canada.  Until Ms. Fisher took the stage, nobody had talked about their struggles with mental illness in quite that way. It was refreshing, hilarious and it got people talking.

In fact, just last week the Communications and Public Affairs team at Ontario Shores was talking about her in regards to her work as an advocate for people living with mental illness. We talked about her memoir, her one-woman play and about how great it would be to have her come to Ontario Shores one day for an event.

A few hours later news broke that Ms. Fisher had experienced a medical incident on a plane in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, Ms. Fisher won’t be attending a future event at Ontario Shores or any organization interested in creating awareness and eliminating stigma associated with mental illness. However, in death, it is reassuring to see that Ms. Fisher is being remembered for more than just her role in Star Wars.

The many tributes that have poured in since of her death have appropriately touched on her life as an advocate. Fittingly, the tributes have focused on her openness, courage and commitment to changing the social views on mental health.

While saddened by the world’s loss of this brave and inspiring woman, it is comforting to know Ms. Fisher’s legacy as an advocate is certain to live on.  

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