Patty Duke, an actress most famous for her portrayal of Helen Keller, passed away at the age of 69 near her home in Idaho. Duke played the role of deaf, dumb, and blind Helen Keller in a Broadway play and also in the film version "The Miracle Worker" for which she won an Oscar in 1962.
In addition to her work as an actress, Duke was active as a mental health advocate fighting stigma by sharing her personal stories about struggling with bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction. She was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982 and wrote about it in her 1987 autobiography, making her one of the first celebrities to speak publicly about this illness. Duke was able to make a full recovery from her addiction and effectively manage her mental illness for almost 35 years.
Stardom and Illness at a Young Age
In addition to her film work, the actress also starred in a popular TV show called the Patty Duke show in which she played both the main characters Patty and Cathy who were cousins with very different personalities. Duke began acting at the tender age of 7 and soon after began having panic attacks that continued into her adolescence.
At age 16 she was the youngest at the time to win an Oscar but it was then that she began having serious problems with depression and insomnia that went on for days. She also had auditory hallucinations which she believed were beings communicating to her to send a message.
Duke was mostly raised by her talent managers who controlled her tyrannically and began supply her with alcohol and prescription medication when she was only 13. As her mental health problems escalated, the actress continued drinking alcohol and taking drugs as a way to self-medicate some of her issues with depression and mania.
Diagnosis and Recovery for Bipolar Disorder
Patty Duke married and divorced three times in the midst of her madness as she dealt with delusions, wild spending sprees and even suicide attempts. Most of her therapists were only able to see the depressive side of her disorder so it was not until 1982 after 20 years of struggling that a doctor finally recognized her as manic-depressive.
Duke was actually relieved to finally have a name for what she had experiencing all these years and she took a prescription of lithium to help reduce her symptoms. The medication helped her manage her more extreme manic symptoms and she was able to live a more stable life and focus on her role as a mother.
As a part of her addiction recovery she asked forgiveness of everyone she offended and was even able to offer forgiveness for her talent managers, the Rosses who made her childhood so difficult. As she recovered, Duke became president of the Screen Actors Guild and began to work in mental health awareness. She received extensive media coverage as she spoke publicly about her battle with bipolar disorder.
More recently in her work as a mental health advocate, Duke started a website with a blog to educate and provide information and empathy for people with bipolar disorder. She even answered emails personally to explain aspects of the disorder and what to expect when they receive treatment.
She wanted to make it clear to people with the disorder that taking medication would not make them lose their creativity or personality. Her discussions on bipolar disorder were a part of her greater goal of helping reduce the widespread stigma about the illness that often prevents people from seeking help or taking medication. Her son, actor Sean Astin hopes to continue her legacy by establishing the Patty Duke Mental Health Initiative to support mental health programs and those in need.
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