This week we lost a very special person and a hero to the mental health community, Patty Duke. Most people know her for her Academy Award-winning role as Helen Keller or her dual roles on The Patty Duke Show. For me, her real-life was more important. Twenty-two years ago when I was sixteen and diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I was confused, scared and ashamed. At that time, Patty Duke was the only major celebrity that had come out to share that she had bipolar disorder and more important was willing to talk about it. She was my shining star, an example that I could get past the pain and suffering and have a successful life. I am not sure if people grasp what a huge deal it was that she came out publicly at that time! Many celebrities have been rumored to have bipolar disorder, but hardly any have the guts to admit it officially and talk about it. I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been. The harsh reality is that there is so much stigma surrounding mental illness. Even if you have an Academy Award, people still might judge you and discriminate against you. Society likes to see a label whether you are stable or not. Patty Duke had so much to lose by coming out, but she did it anyway. She became a living example that mental illness is treatable. Her courage and hard work helped pave the way for the rest of us. I have found the treatment that works for me and recently published a book about my own experiences living with bipolar disorder. I hope it can help others like she helped me. So I applaud you Patty Duke. Thank you for sharing your amazing talent with us on screen and stage. And more important, thank you for sharing your beautiful soul with us by being truthful about your struggles and perseverance. I only wish I could have met you in person to thank you. In your memory, I will live my life to the fullest and honor who I truly am… now if only I can get that catchy and unforgettable Patty Duke theme song out of my head.

For more information about Patty Duke’s work in mental health, here is the link to The Patty Duke Mental Health Project website. You can also check out my book Chocolate Pudding in Heaven; The Intriguing Journey of My Bipolar Mind, like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

Written by Maggie Newcomb