Demi Lovato Gets Vocal About Mental Health Reform in D.C.

The pop star participated in a rally as part of her awareness campaign.
For better or worse, issues of mental health have catapulted into the news cycle as politicians and commentators try to make sense of the mass shooting in Oregon last week. John Oliver pointed out the connection in a Last Week Tonight segment on Sunday, in which he suggested that some politicians have used mental illness as a scapegoat in addressing gun control. But on the other hand, he said, “if now is our only opportunity to have a conversation about public health, perhaps we should do it.”

It can be a tough conversation given the social stigmas, but it’s one that pop star Demi Lovato is more than willing to have. As the spokesperson for the mental health awareness campaign “Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health,” the 23-year-old has been candid about her struggle with bipolar disorder and depression, which she manages through medical treatment and medication.

This week, Lovato took her cause to D.C., where she met with Linda Rosenberg, the president and CEO of the nonprofit National Council for Behavioral Health, and advocated on behalf of the millions of Americans who suffer from mental illnesses. Her visit was part of the National Council for Behavioral Health’s 11th annual Hill Day, an event aimed at encouraging federal mental health and addiction reform.

The group has been active in pushing Congress to pass a series of bills that would fund addiction prevention and recovery, authorize a national mental health education program, and maintain the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, a government-run organization that is facing a proposed $127 million budget cut.

“What I would love to see is comprehensive mental health reform in our government, and I think it’s really important that mental health treatment is more accessible than it is,” Lovato said Tuesday in an interview with MSNBC Live With Tamron Hall. When it comes to her own diagnosis, Lovato said, “there were tons of signs that were missed” by the people around her, but the primary problem was that she didn’t vocalize them. “I think that the more that you’re vocal for yourself and also others, the more that people can help you,” she said.

About one in five adults—or an estimated 43.8 million Americans—experienced mental illness in the past year, but less than half that number received mental health services, according to a 2013 survey by the U.S. Department of Mental Health Services Administration. Of the roughly one in 20 adults—or 10 million—living with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder, more than 30 percent did not receive mental health services in the past year, according to the same report.

As conversations about mental health have been elevated in the media following the Oregon shooting, Lovato echoed Oliver’s sentiments when she argued that mental disorders are not the root of violence—at least not against others. “Unfortunately we’ve had several instances where mental health has been brought to the attention by the media because of these tragedies,” she said during her MSNBC interview. “I think it’s really important to remember that actually people with mental illness are actually more likely to inflict harm on themselves and become the victim rather than be the perpetrators.”

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