carrie fisher
Credit: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

Just when it seemed like we’d be spared the loss of another beloved celebrity in 2016, we learned that actress Carrie Fisher passed away earlier today, the morning of December 27th. Although she’s most recognizable as Star Wars‘ Princess Leia, the star chose to use her fame for a more important cause — Carrie Fisher was an incredible mental health advocate who began to speak out about her struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction at a time when very few public figures opened up about mental illness.

In addition to publishing a book, Wishful Drinking, about her experiences with bipolar disorder and addiction, Fisher gave candid, honest interviews about the topic.

And, perhaps most importantly, she provided inspiration and encouragement to the millions of people who struggle with mental illness by reminding us that we can still achieve our dreams.

carrie fisher
Credit: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

Here are four ways Fisher was an inspirational mental health advocate.

She directly addressed the stigma faced by those who suffer from mental illness

Individuals with mental health conditions are often unfairly (and infuriatingly) labeled as “weak” by people who believe that being sick is a choice — people who assume we can simply “snap out of it,” if only we’d just try a little harder. In Wishful Drinking, Fisher shut down this argument by pointing out that it actually takes an incredible amount of strength to live with a mental illness.

Her activism changed lives

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In addition to the pain of living with a mental illness every day, many sufferers are afraid to ask for help from loved ones and medical professionals because they feel ashamed. It goes without saying that this compounds the pain exponentially — many sufferers believe they don’t deserve help, so they are forced to fight the illness without support.

Her writing reached millions

Fisher’s best-selling memoir Wishful Drinking documented the realities of living with bipolar disorder and addiction — and she approached the topic in a manner that’s simultaneously blunt, candid, and accessible. The book is filled with encouraging, inspirational passages that resonated deeply with men and women facing similar mental health issues.

But, her writing didn’t stop with Wishful Drinking. In fact, less than a month before her death, Fisher wrote a column in The Guardian responding to a person in their 20s who also has bipolar disorder. “Have you found a way to feel at peace when even your brain seesaws constantly?” they asked. After encouraging them to seek help and use all available resources, Fisher concluded with this beautiful message:

She provided powerful reminders that our illnesses don’t define us

In addition to actively fighting the mental illness stigma, Fisher emphasized that, although our illnesses may always be with us, they shouldn’t stop us from living life to the fullest. In a 2013 interview with The Herald Tribune, she provided these incredibly important words of advice to people who may be afraid to pursue their dreams due to a mental illness:

Fisher never sugarcoated the struggles of mental illness. But, she also sent the strong message that it’s OK to be afraid — we just can’t let the fear or self-doubt stop us from pursuing our dreams.

We owe Fisher a debt of gratitude for using her own painful experiences to help others — and she left us with a message of empowerment that will comfort and inspire countless people for years to come. I can’t think of a more beautiful legacy than that.