And Her Lesser-Known Role as Leading Lady in Mental Health Advocacy
We were saddened to learn of the recent passing of an American icon on Tuesday, March 29, at the age of 69.
Photo: Duke as Patty Lane on The Patty Duke Show, 1965 (Wikipedia)
After her death, many fans uploaded memorial videos, including “Patty Duke … Dies At 69 Duke Rip” by TMZ video (1:16)
Many people know that Patty Duke the actress won an Academy Award at the tender age of 16. But fewer people are aware of the way she spent decades initiating change as a powerful advocate for mental health issues.
Patty Duke Astin dedicated a lot of her time to advancing public knowledge and perception of mental health issues. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the 1980’s and subsequently became a strong advocate, one of the first public figures to speak out about personal experience of mental health.
Through her autobiographical books Call Me Anna (ISBN 0-553-27205-5) in 1987, and Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness (ISBN 0-553-56072-7) in 1992, as well as her public speaking, she dedicated much of her time to educating the public. By using her fame to increase exposure to mental health issues, Patty was a pioneer and courageous public servant, while bringing about long needed change in public perceptions of mental health issues.
Patty Duke Astin’s Activism
Patty Duke Astin wasn’t content to leave her diagnosis in the closet. She stepped forward and worked to get the word out, to raise awareness. Mental health imbalances affect many people around the world. Patty felt that that these issues needed the spotlight – to be brought out into open. By doing this, her hope was that these mental health issues would become a more common subject and thus shed the taboos that currently surround the topic as a whole.
Patty Duke Astin understood this and was willing to tell her story. She lobbied Congress to increase funding, increase awareness and increase research into mental health. Her work laid a foundation for many to follow. In this video, Patty goes on Oprah in 1990, at a time when the taboos were even stronger than today:
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Patty spoke about the pain and anguish that many fans from all over the world felt after the death of Robin Williams. If some good is to come of the tragic loss of a well-loved actor then it must be to heighten the awareness of mental health issues.
Patty Duke Astin gave an interview in which she discussed Robin Williams, as well as her own struggles with mental health. She believed that more research, more public awareness and more money can make a difference in helping people like Williams. She also believed that it could possibly have made a difference in his life – it could possibly have prevented his early death.
The movement is now toward increasing the pressure on politicians to be more proactive about mental health issues. Funding must be allocated to increase our understanding about mental health imbalances and their potential causes. Only then can preventions and cures be correctly identified and treated. Gaps in mental health care are just too prevalent a problem to be swept under the carpet, so the more exposure they get, the more positive this can be for the future of mental health care and the future of all of those who suffer from mental health issues.
Patty, you will be missed. Bless you.