Pop superstar Selena Gomez has released a documentary about her journey with mental health, and gone are the days when it was uncool to talk about anxiety and depression. Well, sort of.
Decades ago, discussing mental health in the media was a rare and taboo occurrence. So when pop stars broke down, went to rehab or died by suicide, they were both mourned and commoditised. On one hand, we felt an affinity with their humanness. On the other hand, the media circled their home with helicopters for a front-page story – hardly conducive to healing, but apparently our only way of understanding celebrities after they had fallen from a very high pedestal.
Celebrity culture teaches us that those with a mental illness, or who had died by suicide, like Heath Ledger, Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse, were the ‘other’ – a troubled unicorn of a human, who lived on the wild side and was destined for destruction. Except, if my own journey with mental health has taught me anything, no one is a unicorn, and we all have struggles. And whether you are a celebrity or, in my case, a writer, mental health affects everybody. Which means that what we see on the world stage is repeated every day in our own lives – albeit with less media attention, and less money.
Which brings us to 2023, and the latest step in the public’s conversation about mental health. Because now, instead of the media writing the story about a celebrity’s ‘fall from grace’ (cringe), celebrities are telling their own stories on their own terms – à la Gomez and her new documentary My Mind & Me. And when this is done from a place of deep inner work, self-awareness and healing, it pushes back on the stigma about mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, addiction, schizophrenia and the like.
Gomez has risen to become a primary voice in this conversation about mental health. Originally a child actress on the Disney Channel, she has spent the last 20 years in the spotlight. Her first foray into the mental health arena came with her production of the controversial TV series 13 Reasons Why, a TV show many criticised for its glamorisation of suicide. In the time since, she has started the Rare Impact Fund, a non-profit committed to raising more than $10 million over the next decade to address mental health and self-acceptance. Gomez has also launched the mental health Wondermind platform, and in May last year spoke to President Joe Biden of the United States at a mental health summit.
But like all humans, Gomez is more than just a famous face to bring awareness to a cause. In her new documentary, released on Apple TV, she gives us an unfiltered look at the last six years of her life as she struggled with anxiety, lived with lupus, and received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. And while you could view this as a money-making scheme, to do so would be a disservice to the content of the documentary because it gives us access to the deepest, darkest places of Gomez – the things, in my own experience, you would only share with a therapist.
Before we dive headlong into a review about My Mind and Me, it’s only fair I give you full disclosure: I am a long-time Selena Gomez fan. From her days as a child star on the Disney Channel, to the time I saw her perform with sparkles and spangles in Melbourne, I feel like I grew up with this woman. And as someone who has written about and worked in the mental health space for a decade, this documentary was the perfect blend of my interests and passions.
So my only concern about this doco was the way it discussed mental health – would it promote healing, seeking professional help, and show us how a faith in God marries with mental illness? I’m glad to say that yes, it did all of the above. And most importantly, it did so from an authentic and self-aware position. While Gomez is now in a good place with her recovery, living with mental illness is never linear – but that doesn’t mean it has to stop us from living with purpose.
Opening with news headlines about Gomez’s 2016 breakup with Justin Bieber, we learn quickly that the media has taken a brutal toll on the celebrity. While we fed into the teenage drama of who was dating who, a young Gomez had to deal with the personal fallout in front of cameras. This gives us a microscope into her ailing mental health, as she rehearses for her global REVIVAL tour, and as a 24-year-old, complains about her body, weeps that she isn’t good enough, and looks catatonic in the makeup chair, you can’t help but feel for the humanity of this philanthropist.
Unsurprisingly, Gomez cancelled her tour after 55 dates, citing anxiety and depression. We know she was at the end of her rope, and entered a psychiatric facility. During the documentary, we go on to see her receive a diagnosis of bipolar depression. She reflects on the mania and deep depression of her experience, weeping at how she has hurt her family, and admitting to moments of vanity.
On a mission to find hope, this documentary even includes snippets of her diary, which are brutally honest. She goes on a trip to Kenya with the We Foundation, and returns to her hometown in Texas. All the way through, she holds the tension of palpable sadness and regret, while carrying a powerful torch for doing good in the world.
My Mind & Me is not a clear-cut, perfect snapshot of a person who has overcome the darkness. Rather, it is a well-produced and blatantly honest glimpse into the inner life of a young woman who is still alive. It will play an important role as we continue to combat the stigma of mental illness across the world, and will resonate with people of all backgrounds.
My Mind & Me is streaming now on Apple TV. It is rated M with language and themes of mental illness and suicide.
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