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Demi Lovato: How to Talk to Your Significant Other About Suffering From a Mental Illness

Demi Lovato: How to Talk to Your Significant Other About Suffering From a Mental Illness

By Jessica Radloff

Demi Lovato is doing her part to speak out during Mental Illness Awareness Week, creating a conversation around a topic that is often viewed as taboo, even though it shouldn't be. In fact, one in five people in the U.S. struggle with some form of mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That's a staggering 43.7 million people — and likely includes someone you know, whether a family member, friend, or coworker. It might even include you.

This week, Lovato and five leading national mental health advocacy organizations took their message to Capitol Hill for the Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health initiative. It's a cause that Lovato, who has bipolar disorder, knows all too well. "People don’t judge you when you break your leg; people shouldn’t judge you when you’re diagnosed with mental illness," she told Glamour.

But talking about mental illness can be difficult, especially if you're explaining it to someone for the first time. What are the safest ways to open up? And how should you talk to someone about mental illness if you're, say, at the beginning of a relationship? Lovato spoke to Glamour about all this and more.

Glamour: You've said that over time, you’ve learned to live well with bipolar disorder, and the key is speaking up. How do you encourage the everyday person to do that that without being judged?
Demi Lovato:
Being in my position doesn’t make me any different than anyone else. In fact, sometimes there is more judgement because there are more people to judge me. But that’s exactly why I spoke out about it…to take away that stigma and try to raise awareness.... The longer you wait to vocalize your struggles, the longer you’re delaying your happiness. It’s possible to get help.

Glamour: It’s not like you’re saying, “Hey, let’s all post our mental health struggles on Facebook.” What do you believe to be the safest way to share something so personal?
DL:
It's different for everybody ... I didn't post it on Facebook because I shared it with the whole world. For me to do that, I was able to hold myself accountable and try to be a role model when it came to people in recovery. But for the most part, if that's something people don't want to do, that’s totally understandable. It's equally as beneficial, if not more, to reach out to someone you can trust, whether it's a guidance counselor or a family member or friend.

Glamour: We keep seeing these mass shootings happening all over the country, and some people are quick to blame mental illness rather than focusing on gun laws. What is your reaction to that?
DL:
Without getting into the politics of gun control … I learned an interesting fact actually yesterday that it’s more likely for somebody with a mental illness to harm themselves or be the victim rather than the perpetrator of something like that. So with that in mind, it kind of opens up your eye to a different perspective on what’s happening and what's going on. People need to start engaging in conversation so people start listening. When you share your story, more people are likely to understand and learn something from it rather than live in this world where they don’t understand it.

Glamour: Kate Middleton is actively involved with raising awareness about mental health in children. Have you ever thought about teaming up with her?
DL:
No, but you just gave me a great idea because that’s amazing! That’s good to keep in mind, so if you talk to her, suggest that as well!
Glamour: I’ll dial her up as soon as we finish our conversation!
DL: Yes, please do! [Laughs]

Glamour: The National Institute for Mental Health mentions that a child with a parent or sibling who has bipolar disorder is more likely to develop the illness, compared with children who do not have that family history. Is that something you worry about?
Demi:
A large part of [mental illness] is actually genetic and out of our control, but the sooner that you get help, the more likely it is that you’re able to prevent the suffering and the damage if you end up having a child [that suffers from mental illness]. You can’t protect your child or your siblings from everything, but when you prepare yourself with the right resources and the right tools that have helped you or someone else, then you can definitely expedite the happiness or wellness that everyone deserves.

Glamour: You’re currently in a relationship with Wilmer Valderrama. What are your tips for talking to your significant other—or someone new—about mental health?
DL:
I don’t think there's a time frame to tell someone. I went to rehab, so there's no way for me to decide to tell someone that because it’s already public knowledge, but with that being said, it’s everyone’s own personal story. Sometimes it helps to be honest and open than not talk about it like it’s shameful and hide it for months. If the topic comes up on a first date, there’s nothing wrong with just being straightforward, [and saying], “Yeah, I have bipolar disorder. This is what I know about it…” It’s all about being vocal. You don’t have to hide it from anybody. I think people will actually respect you more for talking about it rather than being ashamed about it.

For information on how you can get help and guidance, visit Be Vocal Speak Up.

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Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur via Getty Images