Pop Culture & Mental Health

What Demi Lovato can teach us about supporting those with mental health concerns

A hundred million stories and a hundred million songs.
I feel stupid when I sing. Nobody’s listening to me.

Nobody’s listening.

I talked to shooting stars, but they always get it wrong.
I feel stupid when I pray. So, why am I praying anyway?

If nobody’s listening

Anyone, please send me anyone.
Lord, is there anyone?

I need someone

Demi Lovato’s ‘Anyone’ was written and recorded four days before her overdose. Since performing the single, live at the Grammy’s in January, Lovato has taken every opportunity to talk openly about her mental health. Her latest comments underscore the important role loved ones play in a person’s life when they have a mental health condition.

The 27-year-old singer has been open about her struggles with bulimia, self-harm, substance use and her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. But last month, on an episode of Ashley Graham’s “Pretty Big Deal” podcast, she revealed how her eating disorder disguised itself in another form.

“I thought the past few years was recovery from an eating disorder, when it actually was just completely falling into it.” She told the host how her habits ― which included working out multiple times a day and extreme dieting ― weren’t red flags to most, but they were definitely part of a bigger mental health issue. “I was just running myself into the ground, and I honestly think that that’s kind of what led to everything happening over the past year. [It] was just, like, me thinking I found recovery when I didn’t, and then living this kind of lie and trying to tell the world I was happy with myself when I really wasn’t.”

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The wish that someone would check in or reach out is the premise of her single, ‘Anyone’. “The song was written and recorded very shortly before everything happened. The lyrics took on a totally different meaning. I even think that I was recording it in a state of mind where I felt like I was okay, but clearly I wasn’t. And I even listened back to it and I’m like, “Gosh, I wish I could go back in time and help that version of myself.” I feel like I was in denial…”

Therapist and owner of Sankofa Marriage and Family Therapy in New York, Racine Henry, states: “Mental health disorders are very consuming… sometimes you’re not conscious enough to think, ‘I should tell my friends’ or ‘I should call my sister’. You’re just trying so hard to survive and stay above.”

Lovato’s words are a heartbreaking reminder that we all need to do more than just encourage people to “reach out” when they’re struggling. We need to recognize unhealthy behaviors and compassionately show up for loved ones – even if they say they’re fine or generally appear OK.

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Her words also serve as an example of how we need to be mindful of how we help our loved ones after they receive a diagnosis. Last week, Lovato went on the Ellen Show, and revealed how intensely her old management team controlled her diet – a conversation that started when Ellen shared a disturbing fact, she learned about Lovato’s former team. “I just learned today that when you came [on the show] for the last six years, the team — you’re no longer with this team — there was a team that used to handle everything before you got here. They were told to hide the sugar and put everything away so that when you got to your dressing room, even backstage, there was no sugar anywhere near. Did you know that was happening?”

Lovato responded by saying that she had no idea that was happening but that she wasn’t surprised. Her management team had been controlling everything she ate, from taking her phone when she stayed in hotels to stop her from ordering room service to enforcing the thought that she should not have birthday cake on her birthday.

She stated that their involvement made her feel like she lived a life for the past six years that weren’t her own. “I think at some point, it becomes dangerous to try to control someone’s food when they’re in recovery from an eating disorder.” She continued by mentioning that her new management team brought her a cake for her recent birthday, and how she remembered crying because she was “finally eating cake with a manager that didn’t need anything from me, and that loved me for who I am, and supported my journey.”

Demi-Lovato-Birthday-at-Ariana-Grande-Concert-2019

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Support is vital to recovery. It helps minimize the indignities and damage that mental illness can inflict on an individual and can have a positive impact on their wellbeing. But our behaviors, when trying to support someone, can also exacerbate their symptoms.

As it can be hard to determine what may be the “right thing” to say or do; here are a few actionable ways you can help someone in your life who either has a history of mental health struggles or is currently dealing with one:

KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS

img_2690Sometimes it will seem obvious when someone is going through a hard time, but there is no simple way of knowing if they have a mental health problem. Although certain symptoms are common with specific mental health problems, no two people behave in the same way when they are unwell. The first thing you can do right now is talk to your loved one about mental health and their healthy behaviors. How do they normally sleep or eat? What does a regular routine look like for them?

Knowing this information can help you recognize when something isn’t right on your own. “People don’t always know how to ask for help or they feel like they’re being a burden. They may feel embarrassed [that] they’re having another mental health episode,” Henry said. “If the people around them are aware of what their baseline is, they can then intuitively pick up on when they need help.”

TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH 

img_2680Talking can take a lot of trust and courage. Set aside time with no distractions, as it’s important to provide an open and non-judgmental space. Let them lead the discussion at their own pace and don’t put pressure on them to tell you anything they aren’t ready to talk about.

Keep questions open-ended (but try not to grill them with too many)– say “Why don’t you tell me how you are feeling?” rather than “I can see you are feeling very low”. Try to keep your language neutral and give the person time to answer.

Talk about wellbeing; and how exercise, diet and taking a break can help protect mental health. Talk about ways of de-stressing and ask if they find anything helpful.

BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER 

@stephaniechinnart_insta“Real support isn’t telling people to be ‘positive.’ We know that can inflict unintentional shame on a wound that just needs to balm of someone listening and being present through our experience. Because while we know deep down “that this too shall pass,” the reality is that if we don’t process it in the moment, fully, then we can carry it around with us. It’s uncomfortable sometimes to sit with people in their pain without trying to “fix” it, but it is incredibly necessary if you want to truly support those around you.” – Stephanie Chinn, mental health activist and artist.

If someone does disclose that they’re having a difficult time, make sure to fully immerse yourself in that dialogue. Active listening – a technique where you concentrate on what the other person is saying and reply in a way that shows them you understood – is crucial in these tough conversations.

REACH OUT REPEATEDLY 

img_2683Consistency matters. There’s some evidence that shows occasional, repeated communication can make a difference for those who are at risk for suicide or struggling with their mental health. “I think one of the best things you can do is continually remind someone that you’re there as a resource,” Henry said, adding that you should try to check in every two or three days (even if you don’t get a response).

Gentle persistence is key.

“They could be rejecting your help a lot,” Henry continued. “I always tell family members or support systems that you should want a person to be angry with you for helping rather than have them no longer be here. If you have to constantly call or text or stop by, do that. Often when the person is better, they’ll be thankful for your help rather than listening to the rejection.”

OFFER HELP IN SEEKING PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT 

You might want to offer to go with them but try not to take control.
Allow them to make the decision.

img_2688The best place to start is by making an appointment with the person’s general practitioner (GP) or with a GP who is highly regarded in mental health. When the person makes an appointment with the doctor, it’s very important that they book a longer or double appointment, so they can make the most of the consultation and not feel rushed. This also gives the doctor plenty of time to discuss the situation and avoids having to book a second appointment.

Another reason for booking a longer appointment is to allow time for the GP to do a thorough assessment, and if necessary, develop a Mental Health Treatment Plan – which is designed to enable the GP to manage and treat the mental health condition by referring out to other health professionals (i.e. psychologist, social worker, occupational therapist) who can provide psychological treatment and report back to the GP with the person’s progress.

BE PATIENT 

img_2681You may feel like they’ve pushed you away, and maybe they have. Those suffering from mental health concerns tend to distance themselves from their loved ones, not because they dislike your company, but because they feel like a burden. Don’t pressure them to spend more time with you or to talk about their problems. As frustrating as it may be trying to help someone who does not seem to appreciate you, don’t give up on them.

And remember, that what they’re going through is not about you and is not your fault. Give them all your love and don’t expect anything in return because they may not be able to give it to you. Whether you think so or not, they need you now more than ever.

LOOK AFTER YOURSELF 

img_2682The need to stay strong and reliable for yourself and the person (or people) you’re supporting can be physically and emotionally draining and can affect your health and wellbeing. When you’re supporting someone with a mental health condition, you’re likely to experience a range of feelings. Sometimes, adjusting to the problems you’re facing and understanding your emotional reactions can take its toll.

But, remember that your reactions are normal. They reflect how you feel and shouldn’t be questioned or judged by other people who aren’t walking in your shoes. Monitor what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. Be aware of self-talk and look for symptoms of stress or burnout (such as experiencing more frequent headaches, tightness in your muscles, lack of sleep and poor concentration).

Know how to look after yourself and give yourself a break.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

Sources:

  • Bailey, Alyssa. Demi Lovato’s ‘Anyone’ Lyrics Were Her Call for Help Before Her Overdose. ELLE. 2020.
  • LaConte, Stephen. Demi Lovato Revealed Just How Intensely Her Old Management Team Controlled Her Diet and It’s Heartbreaking. Buzzfeed. 2020.
  • Srikanth, Anagha. Demi Lovato opens up about her relapse and recovery. The Hill. 2020.
  • Holmes, Lindsay. We Need to pay better attention to loved ones’ mental health. Huffpost. 2020.
  • Mental Health Foundation. How to support someone with a mental health problem. mentalhealth.org.uk. 2020.
  • Curtis, Megan. The Dos and Don’ts of Supporting Someone with Mental Illness. The Providence Center. 2016.
  • Beyond Blue. Looking after yourself. Beyondblue.org.au.
  • Beyond Blue. Supporting someone to see a health professional. Beyondblue.org.au.

 

Since completing my undergraduate studies, I've dedicated my time to supporting and empowering individuals with behavioral health issues. This blog is to be a platform for the behavioral health community; examining the history of behavioral health and the progressions made within the field while providing information and resources to those who need it.

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