One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for December 2016

Carrie Fisher: A Legacy of Mental Health Advocacy

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For the blog’s final post of 2016, I wanted to pay tribute to Carrie Fisher. Although like many people, I grew up in the shadow of the original Star Wars trilogy, I also knew that she developed a second career as a writer, but most importantly….she was a strong advocate for mental health services.

You’ll be reading many tributes to Carrie Fisher’s history of mental health advocacy, but this one will be slightly different….especially in light of a particular meme that’s being repeated. It’s encapsulated in this article which claims that “2016 Is Not Killing People”…but that alcoholism and drug abuse are the primary culprits, and that somehow the addicted person is to blame.

However, Carrie Fisher has not only been honest about her substance use…she’s also made a great point about how addiction can often be separated from other mental health issues. In her writings and her public persona, she spoke often about being “bipolar”….a now cliche term that refers to what we would consider “manic depression.” Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of extreme behavior: highly energetic and “up” behavior (manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” followed by periods of extreme dejection, sorrow, hopelessness (depressive episodes).

Fisher was not only open about it, it was honest. Carrie Fisher often discussed how her mental health issues made an impact on her overall self-perception from body image to family dynamics. She often explained how several of these factors played a role into her overall well-being, but most importantly, she advocated that mental illness and addiction were both diseases that could be treated. In short, Carrie Fisher saw her bipolar disorder and her addiction as mental health issues….issues that needed direct intervention.

One of the other strengths that Carrie Fisher brought to her advocacy for mental health and chemical dependency treatment was a strong sense of humor. At one point, she stated that she wanted to be a centerfold for Psychology Today; she also named one of her memoirs (later to become an HBO documentary) Wishful Drinking. Carrie Fisher also had her own column that focused on mental health and other critical issues. Granted, she faced her mental health issues with a dark sense of humor and a sharp tongue, but Carrie Fisher managed to put these issues into perspective.

So now what? In Chicago, we have several organizations that focus on mental health services that we encourage you to support (either financially or as a volunteer). Like we mentioned in a previous blog just before the election, these organizations will need your help. Although this video happened in a slightly different context, it demonstrates how Donald Trump will, most likely, regard mental health and funding for agencies like SAMHSA:

Here are some great Chicago-area organizations focusing on mental health and chemical dependency (and if you have any recommendations, please reach out via this contact form and we’ll be sure to add them):

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s easy to forget that celebrity deaths should have a meaning other than celebrity. For artists like David Bowie and Prince, that legacy is creativity in music. For Carrie Fisher, it’s more than just a role in an iconic movie franchise….it’s a wide-ranging impact on how we view mental health.

And that is the legacy of Carrie Fisher that needs to be carried into the New Year.


Written by gordondym

December 31, 2016 at 1:40 pm

Embracing Personal & Social Change in 2016

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Although I thought there were some great moments for social change in 2016, personally….2016 was not a good year.

It was admittedly rough, even before the 2016 elections – on January 3rd, my cousin and my aunt – his mother – were involved in a serious car crash. My cousin survived with major injuries, my aunt did not. I didn’t go public with that news at the time, mostly out of respect for my family….

…but to summarize, the year has been rough, a series of highs and lows that have felt me feeling more defeated than triumphant. For every successful gig as a freelance consultant, there has been a lengthy period of inactivity. Although I’m seeing some success as a freelance writer, I also have had to balance personal responsibilities with professional commitments, and that can be a very tricky challenge.

But I’ve learned to accept those mixed results – although we’ve seen many great efforts succeed in driving social change in 2016, we have also found some serious drawbacks. Even now, many are fighting back, resisting the idea that bullying, divisiveness, and rumor-mongering are valid methods for providing information. At a time when fact-checking, generosity, and inclusion are threatened, it is easy to believe that it would be futile to even attempt to drive social change in 2016. After all, the majority have spoken….

…but in reality, they haven’t. Although there are many individuals who feel left out from the status quo, they chose to embrace slogans and dysfunction rather than the hard work of rebuilding and strengthening our communities. For one, I’m feeling slightly empowered, because right now, we can no longer afford the luxury of hiding behind our ideological bubbles, our Facebook shares, or our blog posts. Right now, the biggest social change lesson we’ve learned in 2016 is that social change, like democracy, is a contact sport.

I was recently inspired by rewatching The Untouchablesabout Elliot Ness in Chicago in the 1930s. And I caught one of my favorite scenes – you know the one:

Granted, it may be little over-the-top, but I think social change advocates of all stripes need to take these words to heart.When the opposition spews lies, we spew facts.

When the opposition spreads rumors, we spread truths and facts.

When the opposition attempts to demonize us, we see them as human beings and counter them with reason, not name-calling.

It was a lesson I needed to learn, even if it was a bit painful – I see many of my friends and colleagues embracing negativity. Mostly as a survival mode, but I often wonder what’s happened to make them so embittered, so closed-off from other attitudes.

I nearly became closed-off myself, focusing more on my own immediate survival than living up to my principles. It’s an ever-present struggle, but on some level, it’s worth it.

So my New Year’s Resolution is coming a bit early: I’m resolving that I will embrace personal and social change in 2016 (and 2017) with more enthusiasm, more activism, and most importantly, a strong lack of cynicism.

Because cynicism brought us to this point, and it’s not going to get us out. And I will make every effort to move myself – and others – forward.

Written by gordondym

December 8, 2016 at 3:15 pm