Remember Carrie Fisher: Actress and Mental Health Advocate

mental-health

Actress Carrie Fisher, who died December 27 after suffering a cardiac emergency, is being remembered for more than her skills on the silver screen. While she’s most widely known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars trilogy, Fisher also served a strong advocate for mental health due to personal struggles with bipolar disorder after being diagnosed with the disease in early adulthood.

In her last “Ask Carrie” advice column posted in The Guardian on November 30, Fisher responded to a comment from a reader who was also diagnosed as bipolar.

“We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges,” Fisher said. “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.”

Many credit Fisher’s honesty about her diagnosis as a shining example of bravery in the face of a disease often surrounded by stigma.

“Having those in the public eye openly discuss mental health diseases helps erase the stigma around it and ensures the public is more well informed,” Azeza Uddin, M.D., UnityPoint Health Mental and Behavioral Health Specialist says.

Bipolar Disorder Explained

Dr. Uddin explains bipolar disorder as a brain disorder that’s associated with mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. It’s characterized by unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the inability to carry out day-to-day tasks. The severity of bipolar disorder ranges, with the most severe cases requiring patients to seek medical attention for symptoms that last a week or more.

Signs and Symptoms

“Most patients don’t know they are bipolar until they are formally, medically diagnosed. This is done when a medical professional does a thorough evaluation of symptoms that includes a comprehensive psychiatric questionnaire and a background assessment,” Dr. Uddin says.

According to National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), patients with bipolar disorder have mood episodes or distinct changes in the mood and behavior from what a person normally portrays. Sometimes a mood episode can result in both manic and depressive symptoms.

Manic Symptoms   Depressive Symptoms

 Having excess energy

 Having lack of energy

 Increased activity levels

 Decreased activity levels

 Feeling jumpy or wired

 Lack of interest in things

 Having trouble sleeping

 Feeling worried and empty

 Talking really fast about several different topics

 Eating too little or too much

 Becoming more active than usual

 Forgetting things often

 Doing risky things, like spending a lot of money

 Thinking about death or suicide

 

According to NIH research, people with certain genes may be more likely to develop bipolar disorder. The disorder is also hereditary and tends to run in families. However, NIH points out that most people with a family history of bipolar disorder will not develop the illness.

Treatment and Talk

Dr. Uddin says those diagnosed with bipolar disorder can be treated with medication and therapy. She says it’s important that those with bipolar disorder or other mental health diseases be open to talking about their experiences with others.

“Two of the biggest struggles that people with bipolar disorder have are being ashamed of their illness and how others perceive them,” Dr. Uddin says.

Talking about the disease helps others to understand it as well as the patient who is living with the disease. It’s a strategy Carrie Fisher embraced, in the hopes of inspiring others to do so, as well.

If you have questions about mental health disorders or any symptoms associated with them, contact your UnityPoint Health provider.

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