RIP Carrie Fisher – Jedi Princess and Mental Health Advocate

By | December 27, 2016

Very sad to see that Carrie Fisher has passed. Gonna talk about mental health a little.

Carrie Fisher was a noted sufferer of bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. She did a lot of work to help spread awareness of the condition; if you want to know more, there are several obituary articles talking about this aspect of her work.

Another sufferer, Stephen Fry, did a wonderful documentary a few years ago in which he interviewed her and numerous other sufferers. Watch this, please – bipolar is very poorly understood by the general public.

It is characterized by medium-term periods of depression and periods of elevated mood that can be extreme to the point of being debilitating or psychotic. Yes, elevated mood can be debilitating.

A key feature is that the depression and mood-elevation aren’t necessarily triggered or explainable by anything real or rational, and thus can be hard to treat through talk-based therapy.

The disorder is a lot more complex than I describe here. Please look it up in Wikipedia or watch the aforementioned documentary to get a fuller picture.

Folks with bipolar have elevated risk of early death from a number of disorders. I’m not crunching numbers, but there are reports in the literature of two-fold increases in risk from cardio-vascular disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, and more.

The exact mechanisms are unknown, but one that is likely is stress. Mental disorders impose a great deal of emotional stress on their sufferers, and this has a variety of negative health impacts.

If you’re saddened by Carrie Fisher’s passing, and feel inspired to do something as a result, spend an hour or two considering the ways in which you can reduce stress in the lives of people surrounding you by listening, being more compassionate, trying to understand the stresses they’re under, making fewer assumptions about the things they find challenging and stressful, and being more willing to give benefit of the doubt.

In short, be nice to each other, and may the force be with you.