I've sung along, worked out, and danced to enough Demi Lovato tunes to feel a rush of excitement before chatting with the woman behind such earworms as "Heart Attack" and "Neon Lights" — especially since the 23-year-old singer/songwriter/actress/author/X Factor judge has been refreshingly candid about the struggles she's faced, from self-harm to bullying to addiction to bulimia and anorexia. Now, in partnership with pharma company Sunovion and a handful of mental-health nonprofits, Lovato has launched the mental-health awareness campaign "Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health," and she is not hesitating to speak up about her own mental illness, bipolar disorder.
Lovato didn't know much about bipolar when she was unexpectedly diagnosed with the disorder in 2011 while in rehab for anorexia, bulimia, and cutting. "I had heard people joking about bipolar," she tells me, "as if it's that one minute you're sad, one minute you're happy. I was worried about the diagnosis at first; I didn't want anyone to think badly of me." Soon, however, Lovato was grateful that she could finally put a name to the alternating waves of depression and elation that had driven her life since she was only 10 years old. "In the end, I was so relieved that I got the diagnosis I did."
Lovato's lifestyle now excludes alcohol — this past March marked three years of sobriety for her — and emphasizes structured eating and exercise. "I've maintained the meal plan put together by my trainer [Ronny Comacho], so that has been so helpful," she shares. As for regular exercise, she says, "I love seeing muscles rather than bone. I'm healthier than I've ever been." Planning is the key to Lovato's progress: She complements her eating and workout routines with a treatment plan to address her bipolar specifically, plans that work in tandem to address her diverse issues holistically. "It's all connected," she observes. "I definitely think that the issues I've had have been connected with bipolar."
When asked if the treatment plan is lifelong, Lovato responds that she doesn't think in terms of lifetimes. "Some people go on a treatment plan for a couple years, go off it, and they're fine; [mine] may last my entire life, or it may not. I take it day by day." One of Lovato's favourite tools for getting through the day: personal mantras. "I don't think I could choose just one favourite one," she enthuses. "I have so many favourite mantras and quotes that I put them in a book."
She hopes that her voice will inspire others, whether or not they're struggling with mental health issues, to start conversations and encourage those who need help to seek it. "People are uneducated about bipolar," she states. "For me, I suffered a lot with bipolar depression, which is not talked about. And, I wish people knew it wasn't as easy as just becoming happy." Lovato's progress may not have been easy, but it's evident. I ask Lovato what's next for her. "Well, coming up next, I have another phoner!" she laughs. "No, but I'm also working on my new album." In addition to launching "Be Vocal" this week, Lovato announced that she, Nick Jonas, and their manager Phil McIntyre, are starting their own label, Safehouse Records, which will release Lovato's upcoming album later this year. We're looking forward to hearing more of her powerful words, whether spoken or sung.