Pop singer Demi Lovato’s documentary Simply Complicated was released on YouTube on October 17th. While she’s been open about her drug and alcohol addictions and eating disorder in the past, this doc provides a more detailed timeline of Demi’s journey from addiction to recovery to relapse and back to recovery once more.
This documentary is unapologetic, raw, and in-your-face. It has some eerie similarities to director Asif Kapadia’s brilliant 2016 Best Documentary Feature, Amy, which documents the life and tragic death of British singer Amy Winehouse.
Ironically, in Simply Complicated, Demi references Winehouse as someone she idolized growing up. In a journey back to Demi’s house, she shows a poster she’d made as a child that she kept in her closet, plastered with photos of celebrities she wanted to look like. There, among the models and skinny celebrities, was Winehouse, most likely in the depths of drug and alcohol addiction and bulimia, which she was mocked for in the media until the day she died.
The difference with this doc? Well, to put it bluntly, the addiction sufferer survived. In Simply Complicated, Demi acknowledges that while she is clean from drugs and alcohol, she does still struggle with eating disorder behaviors, and that it will be something she most likely will struggle with for the rest of her life. However, even though she may have her setbacks, this documentary has a completely different outcome and tone than Amy did, mainly because Demi is speaking from a place of recovery while Winehouse is no longer here to tell her story because her addictions killed her.
Demi has not only been vocal for years about her struggles with addiction, mental illness, and recovery. She also has stated her awareness of the life-and-death nature of these addictions. But her story has not ended the way Amy’s did. Demi has come away from her addictions through recovery and publicly advocating for mental illness treatment, awareness, and erasing the stigma behind it.
Whether you’re a fan of her music or not, whether you even know who Demi is or not, her story matters. This documentary matters. Why?
It matters because Demi is sharing her struggles with mental illness in a world where mental illness is still stigmatized.
It matters because while eating disorders (specifically anorexia) are the most lethal of all psychiatric illnesses, there is a severe lack of funding allocated to research.
It matters because celebrities are viewed as being “immune” to mental illness and shamed for suffering, seeking treatment, or dying by suicide.
If you look at any article or social media post with news of a celebrity dying by suicide or opening up about his/her mental illness struggles, you will find a heaping pile of comments perpetuating myths surrounding basic psychology. Some classic myths or statements of victim-blaming represented in comment threads include:
“You’re rich, so you have nothing to be depressed about!”
“You’re rich, so you can afford treatment!”
“You’re doing this for attention because no one cares about you anymore!”
“There are poor people in the world who have REAL problems!”
“So selfish to leave your family all alone!”
Or, the ever popular favorite:
“Mental illness doesn’t even EXIST. Just smile and get over it!”
Demi is viewed by many as a hero. Why? Because she speaks out in a world that either misunderstands, demonizes, or attempts to silence those suffering from mental illness. She speaks out without editing herself. She speaks not only of her addictions and recovery, but also of her slipups. By doing so, especially with the release of this documentary, Demi is not only helping raise awareness for those who need to be educated on mental illness; she’s also giving a realistic and honest representation of what addiction, recovery, and relapse look like, while still showing why she continues to work towards recovery.
This documentary is a brave move, and one Demi should be commended for. For years she has been vocal, blunt, and unapologetically honest about her struggles, and this is the type of voice necessary for raising awareness and slowly erasing mental illness stigma. Those uneducated need to not only be educated; people suffering from mental illness also need to be prepared for recovery, relapses, and understand that recovery is something necessary for survival.
Erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness is a slow, long process. Documentaries like Amy and Simply Complicated have been bold moves towards erasing that stigma. Demi’s leadership in advocating for mental illness awareness is so necessary, and hopefully in the coming years, she will inspire more voices to speak out.
Watch the documentary on YouTube.