On Tuesday, Dec. 27, Carrie Fisher died at age 60.

Her death comes four days after she suffered a heart attack. Best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars film franchise, it's hard to overstate just how inadequate that basic description of her is. In addition to being an actor, Fisher was also a best-selling author and a mental health advocate. To her fans, she was even more than that: an idol, an inspiration, and even a lifesaver.

Fisher attends a screening of "The Empire Strikes Back"  in 1980. AP Photo/Dave Caulkin.


This viral Tumblr post from user angelica-church explains just what made Fisher so special:

Originally shared on Dec. 23, 2016, the post has racked up more than 116,000 interactions as of this writing.

"Carrie Fisher isn’t just Princess Leia. Carrie Fisher isn’t just an actress we all admire from a famous series of movies made a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Carrie Fisher isn’t just another name on the list of shitty things 2016 has done to people I admire.

Carrie Fisher is a woman who struggled with addiction and mental illness and never sugar coated it — she spoke honestly, openly, about every ugly truth, and made me so much less ashamed of the things I struggle with in my daily life."

John Boyega and Carrie Fisher attend the world premiere of "�Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in Hollywood, California. Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Disney.

"Carrie Fisher is a woman who fought back against body shaming and misogyny, against agesim, who looked at critics and said, 'Yes, I am a woman who has aged, and had children, and struggled with depression* and addiction and my body has changed, so you can just shut the fuck up and deal with it,' and it was absolutely beautiful.

Carrie Fisher is a woman who was placed in the role of 'princess,' but didn’t conform to the typical Hollywood idea of what a princess should be. She’s loud, brash, crass, and unapologetic for being so."

Fisher with her dog Gary in 2015. Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney.

"She’s an idol and an inspiration and she’s a woman who saved my life many times just by being who she was and never shying away from it or feeling the need to say sorry. Carrie Fisher is so much and more and I cannot begin to stomach the thought of 2016 taking her away from me, from her family, from the rest of the world and those of us who love her so dearly.

I love you, space momma. We all do. Keep fighting the good fight."

Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Fisher attend a Star Wars fan concert in 2015 in San Diego, California. Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney.

Fisher is just the latest in what seems like an unending list of cultural icons lost during 2016. Like others, her influence will live on for generations to come.

We all draw our inspiration from somewhere. For many of us, that means looking to athletes, actors, entertainers, and other pop culture figures for guidance. Maybe Leonard Cohen's music helped you understand heartbreak; maybe David Bowie's carefree approach to fashion and gender expression helped you relate to the world in a new way; maybe Muhammad Ali's willingness to stand up for what he believed in helped you find a resolve deep within yourself you didn't know you had.

Carrie Fisher showed us that being a princess is about so much more than a crown.

Fisher at age 16. AP Photo/Jerry Mosey.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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