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Demi Lovato: Mental Health Care Is Not a Political Issue

This wasn’t about politics, said Demi Lovato as she stood addressing partisans in July at the Democratic National Convention. Rather, it was about doing the “right thing.”
Demi Lovato at the DNC

The right thing, the songstress declared, is that we recognize mental health as being just as important as physical health and destroy the stigma that prevents many people suffering from mental illness and addiction from getting the help they need.

“Like millions of Americans, I am living with mental illness. But I am lucky. I had the resources and support to get treatment at a top facility,” the former Disney star said. “Unfortunately, too many Americans from all walks of life don’t get help, either because they fear the stigma or cannot afford treatment.”

Barrier to Treatment

Stigma is defined by Webster’s as “a mark of disgrace or discredit.” Sociologist Erving Goffman talked about the stigmatized being perceived as having a “spoiled identity.” The stigma surrounding mental illness is cited by both the U.S. surgeon general and the World Health Organization as a key barrier to treatment. And when people turn that stigma inward — believing that they are flawed, that they don’t fit in or are not good enough — it can lead to the development of the “why try” effect. If you believe that you are unable to recover and live normally, “why try?”

As Lovato addressed the thousands of people gathered on the convention floor and the millions more watching from home, statistics tell us that one in four of them has had first-hand experience with a mental disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 25% of Americans — about 61.5 million — experience mental illness in any given year. And that number represents only a fraction of those impacted by untreated addiction and other mental disorders when you consider the pain their loved ones endure.

Fortunate to Get Help

The juxtaposition of Lovato’s words, “I am living with mental illness. But I am lucky,” was cause for a double-take that surely was not accidental. In 2010, the pop star checked herself into a treatment center for drug and alcohol abuse and eating disorders, and subsequently learned she had bipolar disorder. The lucky part is that she was able to get the help she needed to recover.

“I lived fast and I was going to die young,” she said in a recent interview with American Way magazine. When asked whether she thought she’d be alive at 40, she replied: “I didn't think I would make it to 21.”

But at age 23, Lovato took to the podium with a palpable sense of confidence.

“I stand here today as proof that you can live a normal and empowered life with mental illness,” she told the delegates.

Lovato pressed the nation’s politicians to work harder in supporting those who suffer from mental illness and to support laws that make healthcare more accessible for everyone. She believes so strongly in the cause that she brings members of her treatment team on tour with her, “so that least a small group of people, even for a brief moment, can have the support that I received,” she said. Lovato is often present for the “wellness workshops” held before each show.

Most people with substance abuse or other mental health issues receive no medical care for their conditions, and of those who do, few receive the most effective form. Lovato is indeed in the minority. Before exiting the stage, she reminded her audience of what happens when people go without care: “Untreated mental illness can lead to devastating consequences, including suicide, substance abuse and long-term medical consequences,” she said. “We can do better.”

Where to Begin

If you or someone you love needs help, you can start with your primary care doctor. He or she can usually give you the name of a psychologist or psychiatrist to contact. You can also reach out to clergy or your local Mental Health America office. Veterans have the additional option of going through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Check out the website or call 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website is yet another resource. On it, you’ll find contact information for alcohol, drug and mental health treatment facilities and programs throughout the U.S. You can also call their referral helpline at 1‑877‑726‑4727 and speak with someone Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

Your employer’s employee assistance program (EAP) is another source of help. It’s completely confidential. You don’t need to ask permission or go through HR channels. Just call the EAP phone number and make an appointment.

If you’re on Medicare, participating doctors are listed on the website. (Click on “Find doctors & other health professionals.”) Providers that accept Medicaid may be listed by your state Medicaid office.

Lovato’s presence on the convention stage was a testament to the power of treatment. A young woman who thought it would all be over by now is helping lead the way in changing how the nation views mental illness. We’re all lucky she made it.

Posted on July 28th, 2016

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