“It upsets me when people throw around the word bipolar, like, ‘I can’t decide what I want to eat today, I’m so bipolar!'”
That’s just a little bit of what Demi Lovato had to say about her own struggles with bipolar disorder and the nomenclature surrounding mental illnesses. Lovato was officially diagnosed with the psychiatric disorder in January of 2011 during her stay at the residential treatment center, Timberline Knolls.
Like many with the disease, Lovato’s illness had gone undiagnosed for years, leading her through a stream of drug use, bulimia and self-harm. Poets have described this particular disorder as living with a light inside you that no longer shines but instead has become darkness. Apt for Lovato since some days it kept her in bed while others she would work feverishly for hours on end.
“I would have episodes where I would write seven songs in one night and stay up until five or six in the morning feeling very invincible,” she told me.
She tried to rationalize it, of course, as just “being an artist” which has historically been, as she put it, “glamourized… to have a dark side.” But that sort of chaos took its toll on a then 19-year-old Lovato. “[The mania] makes you feel more like a troubled artist, but for me it became a matter of life and death,” she explains. “I stopped glamourizing it and it became about whether I was going to survive or not.”
Which is why she sought to share her story with her fans while she was going through her first crisis, and then again today as she launches a new campaign. Lovato is using her personal story to raise awareness and advocate for those who are suffering just as she was in a movement called #BeVocalSpeakUp.
Lovato says the first moment she decided to be open with her fans was when she went to rehab.
“I had two choices, I could either never speak about it and pretend it didn’t happen, which a lot of people in Hollywood do because it’s their personal decision [since] they want privacy (and I did contemplate that). But I realized there is a bigger purpose to life. I wanted to use my voice for something more than singing and that’s when my fans started connecting with me.”
Her new initiative is called “Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health.” It is a website designed to empower adults living with mental health conditions to speak up as a community in order to advance mental health awareness in America.
Lovato says, “It’s an amazing website because it has so many resources for people that need it, and it’s also about raising awareness and taking action.”
An important appeal since our mental health care system is still not big enough to serve all those who need it. Of the multi-billions of dollars earmarked for health care, less than six percent goes towards mental health, and when it does, the money is used primarily for prescription drugs and outpatient treatments. Luckily for Lovato, prescription drugs are working for her.
“In my purse… I take medication for my mental illnesses… it’s glittery and sparkly and it says ‘Crazy Pills’ on it. For me I find that funny and I’m taking it lightly while [at the same time] I understand the severity of it.”
The real inspiration Lovato offers is how fabulously productive she has become. She and her manager recently announced the launch of a record label with her good friend Nick Jonas called Safehouse Records. The venture has emboldened her since she says she is not afraid of any stress running a label may put on her mental state.
“I don’t find it stressful at all. The reason we called it ‘Safehouse’ is because we wanted it to be a safe haven for artists that we sign without all the B.S. and people trying to control you. As artists we can be there for each other.”
Lovato is also looking ahead to a new album, which she revealed is coming out “very soon,” and it will be an homage to the wide variety of music genres that inspire her. She is living proof that for those days when you are in your darkest place, there is hope woven into her message with the assurance that life has value and is worth preserving.