Singer Demi Lovato is meeting with legislators in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to bring attention and awareness to mental health issues during Mental Health Awareness Week 2015.
Lovato, who has been open about suffering from bipolar disorder for years, said the taboo surrounding mental illness needs to end because so many people suffer from some type of mental health issue, citing the World Health Organization (WHO) statistic that one in four people will suffer from a mental or neurological illness at some point in life. With these numbers in mind, she said this means we should also start viewing mental illness the way we view physical illness, that way it can be taken more seriously.
“I went through several years of pain and suffering, and I want to be able to help people and help try to prevent that suffering from happening,” the 23-year-old told People an interview, adding that people in this country need better access to healthcare and must learn to destigmatize mental illness as a whole.
“The problem with mental illness is people don’t look at it as a physical illness. When you think about it, the brain is actually the most complex organ in your body. We need to treat it like a physical illness and take it seriously,” Lovato said.
Lovato’s comments come shortly after the social media campaign #MedicatedAndMighty took off to fight the stigma around taking medication for mental health issues, which many are afraid to talk about out of fear of judgment or discrimination.
Last year, Lovato started the Lovato Treatment Scholarship Program following the death of her dad Patrick Lovato, who was bipolar-schizophrenic. Several years ago, she famously left the Jonas Brothers tour early to seek treatment for eating disorders and cutting. Having experienced these hardships in front of the whole world, she has learned the importance of self-care in the midst of so much attention and gossip.
“One thing that I’ve learned while dealing with this in the public eye has been that as rewarding as it is sharing my story and helping others, it’s important to take care of myself as well,” she said. “It’s great to get outside of yourself and help others, but it’s also important that I stay dedicated to my treatment plan and make sure that I can help myself before others.”
Following the mass shooting at Umqua Community College last week, Lovato went on MSNBC to say it’s important not to assume mental illness is always to blame for major tragedies involving gun violence.
“Well, unfortunately, we’ve had several instances where mental health has been brought to the attention by the media because of these tragedies,” Lovato said. “I think it’s really important to remember that actually mental health, people with mental illness, are actually more likely to inflict harm on themselves and become the victim rather than be the perpetrators.”
Lovato added that she felt there were signs she suffered from bipolar disorder when she started becoming famous but that she couldn’t pinpoint what was going on right away.
“[I didn’t] vocalize it. That’s why it’s so important, that’s why I’m involved in this campaign for mental health called Be Vocal,” she said. “I was lonely, I was sad, and I was miserable and I couldn’t figure out why because I was on top of the world, it felt like.”