Selena Gomez is no stranger to navigating mental health challenges, from dealing with the emotional burden of lupus to her kidney transplant to bipolar’s depression and anxiety. She’s learned the power of self-care and having the right connections—and how to say “no.”
On April 3, 2020, singer and actor Selena Gomez candidly revealed that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during her recent stay at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. The pop sensation has not shied away from sharing her health conditions—whether mental or physical—with her fans in the past, but this latest update was an unexpected and powerful declaration. In conversation with fellow former Disney star Miley Cyrus on “Bright Minded: Live,” Cyrus’s Instagram talk show, Gomez highlighted the importance of obtaining an accurate diagnosis and being well informed. Embracing both the diagnosis and the process of learning about it, she said, “When I have more information, it actually helps me. It doesn’t scare me once I know it.” Gomez’s frank and positive outlook is all the more inspiring considering that she grew up in a culture where discussing such conditions was taboo.
For World Mental Health Day 2020, Gomez hosted an Instagram Live conversation with Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served as US Surgeon General under Barack Obama’s administration. The purpose of their talk was to discuss “chronic loneliness and the healing power of human connection,” which has become a paramount concern, given the impact of the global health crisis on our collective mental health. During their chat, Gomez shared that she “went into a bit of a depression” at the start of the crisis, pointing out that what brings her joy is her career, which “is centered on travel, connecting to people, [and] making people happy.” Essentially everything that became restricted for public safety and personal health. Because of this, she admitted, “It has been a struggle.”
Always honest about her challenges and forthcoming about her journey, Gomez said, “I got through that [bipolar depression] with the right people and doing the right things.” Among those “right things” are writing, being active, continuing to work on her professional goals, and—importantly—spending extended time with her family and “those quality people” who help her stay well. While recognizing the challenges and celebrating her successes, Gomez said, “In the end, slowly, … I’m fully coming out again, and I just think I had to handle it the way I needed to handle it.”
In the Fall 2019 issue of our sister publication, esperanza, the star elaborated on her upbringing and mental health. In “Selena Gomez & the Simple Life,” by Elizabeth Forbes, the [then] 27-year-old songstress discussed her depression and anxiety, plus managing both lupus and her kidney transplant. Emphasizing the importance of genuine self-care, Gomez shared more about her advocacy and the role social media plays in influencing her self-confidence and well-being (for better or worse).
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Selena Gomez and the Simple Life
After years of insecurity and emotional distress—plus a health scare—the multitalented global celebrity is minimizing stress and finding peace.
By Elizabeth Forbes
November 4, 2019—Delve into the published record about Selena Gomez, worldwide celebrity and quadruple threat—singer, actor, producer, fashionista—and a trend emerges. In interview after interview, year after year, she comments on feeling “more centered and secure in who I am.”
In fact, when asked if she has any personal advice for her devoted
as Selenators—her first response was, “think very hard about who you are
and who you want to be in life. Those are the hard questions that we all deal
with, but it’s better to face up to them than [to] let yourself keep making
mistakes and becoming disillusioned.”
It’s an ongoing challenge for anyone, especially those
launching into independent adulthood: to grow ever more confident, more
authentic, more in control of life decisions. But it’s maybe a little more
complicated for Gomez, who turned 27 in July.
This is a young woman who got her first regular TV gig at
age 10 and grew up cocooned within the show-biz industry. A young woman who
evolved from Disney teen star to entertainment idol and most followed person on
while most of her peers were finishing high school, perhaps attending college, and
settling into their first “grown-up” jobs.
Not to mention that for the past six or seven years she’s
been living with lupus and its common companions, depression and anxiety. Going
through a kidney transplant with life-threatening complications at age 25—as
Gomez did in summer 2017—definitely gets a person thinking about what’s important
and what isn’t.
It’s unclear how many Americans have lupus, an autoimmune
disorder in which the body attacks its own tissues, joints, and organs.
However, Gomez is part of the prime demographic: According to the federal
Office on Women’s Health, nine out of ten people diagnosed in the US are women
between the ages of 15 and 40.
Lupus attacks come and go in episodes called “flares-ups.”
In general, Gomez doesn’t talk much about her physical symptoms: debilitating
pain, fevers, headaches, fatigue.
She’s been more open about the emotional burden of the
disease. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, depression affects up to
60 percent of individuals who have lupus or another chronic illness.
“I’ve had a lot of issues with depression and anxiety, and
I’ve been very vocal about it,” Gomez told Harper’s
Bazaar after recovering from her transplant surgery, “but it’s not
something I feel I’ll ever overcome. There won’t be a day when I’m like, ‘Here
I am in a pretty dress—I won!’
“I think it’s a battle I’m gonna have to face for the rest
of my life, and I’m okay with that because I know that I’m choosing myself over
Putting herself and her health first doesn’t always come
easy in her profession.
As a child actor, she naturally deferred to her mother, who
managed her career until Gomez was 22. As part of the Disney machine, her image
and opportunities were tightly controlled. When she crossed over into pop
music, she had her record company to answer to—and her fans, too.
“I let people pull at me in every direction, and I want
everybody to be happy,” she told radio host Ryan Seacrest when she was 22. “Eventually
I would be in the bathroom sobbing right before I would go onstage. And then I’d
just go onstage, and I’d want to be there for those people.
took a moment to just go—go away and be myself and
figure it out.”
By that point, Gomez had hit the number one spot on Billboard’s top 200 albums chart with
her debut solo album, Stars Dance. She’d
also been subjected to sordid speculation in the media when she canceled the
final two legs of her worldwide Stars Dance Tour in December 2013.
Celebrity watchers were abuzz when Gomez entered a rehab
center specializing in addiction and trauma in young adults. It wasn’t until
nearly two years later that she revealed she’d needed the break to get medical
treatment for her lupus.
“I wanted so
badly to say, ‘You guys have no idea. I’m in chemotherapy.’ … But I was angry I
even felt the need to say that,” she explained to Billboard magazine in fall 2015 while doing the rounds for her
second album, Revival.
“It’s awful walking into a restaurant and having the whole room look at you, knowing what [the tabloids are] saying. I locked myself away until I was confident and comfortable again.”
Of course, media coverage is a two-way street for celebrities—or perhaps a double-edged sword.
When an album drops, a movie comes out, a TV show starts a new season, the machinery of the entertainment business gears up to chase publicity. Gomez does her duty charmingly and with a surprising amount of honesty, whether the forum is press pool interviews, late-night talk shows, radio programs, or magazine cover stories.
Gomez’s enterprises extend into the fashion world, too, so it’s to her benefit to be seen in photo shoots for Coach or Pantene or Vogue looking stylish and sexy. Yet there’s an inherent irony: Despite how good she looks to us or how comfortable she appears, Gomez says she falls prey to the kinds of self-conscious insecurities shared by many other young (and not-so-young) women.
It doesn’t help that every aspect of her life, from her looks to her health to her romantic relationships, is seen as fair game by the entertainment media. The relentless press scrutiny can be especially tough on someone who describes herself as “maybe too sensitive” to critical comments.
Gomez’s ancestry—Mexican through her father, Mediterranean through her mother—shows in her luxuriant dark hair and olive skin tone. She told the teen mag Twist that while growing up in Texas, she was surrounded at auditions by “girls who had blue eyes and blond hair and I thought, ‘I want to look like them!’”
She even confessed to Vogue that blue-eyed Hilary Duff was her one-time idol. (When she was younger, it was Judy Garland.) But, Gomez continued, by age 15 or 16 she recognized that being as successful as she is while being who she is makes a powerful statement to today’s Latinx little girls.
Even as confident as she strives to be, Gomez admits her self-esteem took a hit after a “weight-gate” flap in spring 2015. Paparazzi snapped her in a bikini while she was on a working vacation in Mexico. The tabloids loudly decided she wasn’t looking svelte enough.
It was her first experience with body shaming and she didn’t let it slide. She threw her own swimsuit photo up on Instagram with the caption, “I love being happy with me yall #theresmoretolove.”
She later spoke more forcefully on the topic:
“I have never wanted to try to be skinny because that’s not really my body type…. Women should not be pressured into conforming to any one body image. We’re not all alike, and we women shouldn’t be made to feel bad or ashamed about our bodies.”
Instagram Or Out?
Gomez’s savvy use of Instagram to preempt the “Hot or Hefty?” headlines grew out of migrating to the social media forum as a way to stay in touch with her friends long-distance.
She also discovered its potential to make an end-run around the media and deliver “my words and my voice and my truth” directly to her app-friendly fans—all 156 million of them at latest count. In 2016 and 2017, @selenagomez was the most-followed account on Instagram; the star has remained in the top three since then.
Gomez has backed off from Instagram in recent years—both posting and scrolling. As early as 2015, she was expressing reservations about cyberbullying and warning women and girls about the emotional damage they risk when comparing themselves to what they see and read on social media.
Although Gomez admits that some of the photos she puts up no doubt inspire envy, she herself isn’t immune to feeling “kind of depressed” when she spends too much time on Instagram. She now advocates for setting time limits on using social media and getting offline altogether periodically.
“I love having a platform to communicate with people,” she explained as the first guest on Coach’s Dream It Real podcast earlier this year. “However, I just don’t think that it’s healthy to spend too much time on it.”
She continued that for herself, “looking at these people who look beautiful and amazing … would just get me down a lot, so I just think taking breaks is really important.”
Gomez goes on to confess that she was “very insecure” when she was younger. She created a persona that reflected an imaginary ideal, someone who in her mind would be likable and inoffensive and seem to have it all together. When she talks about being authentic, she means “not minding being myself anymore.”
She’s especially worried about the effects of social media on rising generations because “they’re exposed to so much information, and I feel like that causes a lot of anxiety.… I think you should really [be careful about] what you’re seeing, and you should be really mindful of how it makes you feel.”
Taking her own advice, she’s deleted Instagram from her phone, borrowing a friend’s phone when she’s in the mood to post something. That way, she has a lifeline before she ventures into the quicksand.
Gomez learned a lot about maintaining her mental health during her 90-day stay at a psychiatric center in Tennessee.
Once again, she broke off an international concert tour—this one for her hit album Revival—to address health issues. She was up-front about needing the break to deal with emotional distress triggered by the pressures of touring.
“I’ve discovered that anxiety, panic attacks and depression can be side effects of lupus,” she explained in a statement when she pulled out of the tour in August 2016.
“I want to be proactive and focus on maintaining my health and happiness and have decided that the best way forward is to take some time off.… I know I am not alone by sharing this. I hope others will be encouraged to address their own issues.”
Later she spoke with Vogue magazine about her symptoms while on tour: loneliness, low self-esteem, panic attacks before or after her performances, feeling like she was giving weak shows and her fans knew it—“which, I think, was a complete distortion,” she said in retrospect.
The small inpatient program she attended was a safe bubble for Gomez. She shut down contact with the outside world during her stay, even with close friends. The other young women in the program came from ordinary backgrounds. They all attended individual and group therapy sessions, along with other healing activities.
The intensive psychotherapy was a game changer for Gomez. And she’s not shy about promoting its benefits, such as nurturing “a good inner dialogue.”
“I think [therapy] sounds a lot scarier to people than it actually is,” she mused to radio host Zach Sang. “Honestly, what I think it’s like is holding a mirror to yourself and acknowledging the things you don’t really want to acknowledge about yourself, about the situations you put yourself in.”
In addition to regular therapy sessions, Gomez takes the occasional inpatient retreat as needed. In January 2018, after a few months of media focus and interviews about her kidney surgery and recovery, Gomez checked into a New York City facility for two weeks of counseling, meditation, Pilates, and healthy meals.
Since then she’s kept a relatively low profile for a world-famous entertainer and fashion entrepreneur.
“I’ve stepped back a bit,” she explained during the publicity tour for Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. “I’m enjoying my life and I don’t think about anything that causes me stress anymore, which is really nice.”
She went on: “I don’t pay to attention to trying to get people to like me so much anymore.
“When you feel more secure about yourself, it carries over into everything you do. You don’t give in to your doubts or anxieties as much and that frees you to be true to yourself … and that’s a pretty liberating feeling.”
Gomez surfaced again this past spring at events for The Dead Don’t Die, including the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. As of press time, fans are waiting on her long-anticipated third album. Meanwhile, she’s been popping up with singles, mostly collaborations with other artists.
In May 2018, her song “Back to You” was released as the lead single off the soundtrack from the second season of 13 Reasons Why. The Netflix original series, based on the book Jay Asher, was shepherded onto the air by Gomez and her mother as executive producers. The show has been renewed for a fourth and final season.
A “passion project” for Gomez, the series initially stirred interest (and controversy) for its central plot element…. Before the premiere in March 2017, Gomez said she hoped to “make young people aware of all the fears and anxieties that are part of growing up and which often lead to mistakes and bad decisions.”
“My Own Path”
Over the past year two years, Gomez has downsized and “simplified,” including moving out of Los Angeles to nearby Orange County, where she’s somewhat insulated from the paparazzi and other unpleasantries of the Hollywood machine.
She also put her heart and time into volunteering with A21, a global anti-human-trafficking nonprofit. She was drawn into the cause by A21 co-founder Christine Caine, a fellow congregant from the Hillsong Church.
Raised a Catholic, Gomez has been attending Hillsong services in New York City and Los Angeles since her early twenties. The millennial-friendly global ministry, known for its music-rich services, could be classed as “liberal evangelical.”
Gomez talks frankly about how important her faith has become to her.
“I encourage all people to [believe in] a higher power. I believe in faith and a relationship with God. And I know that if I didn’t have the faith that I had it wouldn’t have gotten me through some of the hardest times in my life.”
Gomez has appeared onstage at several Hillsong conferences, surprising the crowd by performing an original worship song and testifying about her spiritual journey. From the stage at one such event, she summarized her growth over the past few years:
“The most critical lesson I’ve learnt is that my identity and my happiness [have] nothing to do with my work or whatever success I have.
“I also know that I can’t live my life according to what people expect of me and that I have to follow my own path,” she continued. “That was a very liberating kind of realization.”
• • • • •
What Works for Selena Gomez
In various interviews over the years, Selena Gomez has talked about what sustains her mental health:
BEING PRESENT: “I’ve learnt to be more present in the moment instead of thinking that, ‘Once I get there, I’ll have it all.’ … I’m trying to enjoy my journey as much as I can.”
SELF-AWARENESS: “It’s also important not to try to pretend that everything’s great when it’s not. I’ve found out that that doesn’t work for me…. I’ve learnt to be honest about my feelings and with myself.”
SETTING LIMITS: “I kept pushing myself and I think the biggest thing I learned is, ‘It’s okay. I’m going to stop when I need to stop, I’m going to feel when I need to feel, and I don’t care what comes with that or what people want to say.’”
COUNSELING: “I am a believer [in] therapy…. It’s hard for people to open up, but I think it’s just one of the most important things—to get to know yourself. Not saying everyone in the world has to do it, I’m just saying it’s helped me understand myself and my childhood a lot better.”
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