Demi Lovato’s Other Dragon

photo-1Demi Lovato begins her 28-city arena tour Saturday in Baltimore, but she looked a little more nervous facing 1,700 advocates in a hotel ballroom as part of the National Alliance for Mental Illness annual convention Thursday in Washington.

Lovato, 22, the pop star who we’ve watched grow up alongside such fearsome figures as Barney the Dinosaur and Simon the Cowell, fought her biggest foe in facing bipolar disorder, bulimia and drug and alcohol abuse that came to a head four years ago when she quit a Jonas Brothers tour, slugged a backup dancer and withdrew from the Disney series “Sonny with a Chance” (which had no chance without her and abruptly ended).

The initial announced reason for the withdrawal was “physical and emotional issues” — a common excuse for entertainers who use the catch-all “exhaustion” to explain their dropping out from all manner of professional responsibilities. But Lovato almost immediately went public with her woes, eventually singing about it in albums like “Unbroken” and singles like “Skyscraper” and “Give Yourself a Break.”

MTV did a documentary on her recovery, she wrote a book, “Staying Strong: 65 Days a Year,” ¬†and continued to advocate on mental health issues to bring them out into the open.

Hence Lovato’s visit to the mental health convention, where she was among a morning roster of speakers meant to charge up members before their trip to Capitol Hill to urge the passage of comprehensive mental health bill this session. “I’m not a policy expert in any way, shape or form,” Lovato said. “But I do know that the basics of comprehensive care make good sense — common sense.”

“Those of us here today know that mental illness has no prejudice,” she said. “It affects people of every race, age, gender religion and economic status. It doesn’t discriminate between Republicans or Democrats either.”

Without specifically citing tragedies like Newtown, she went on, “we’ve seen increase attention to our country’s broken mental health system over the past few years, but we’ve seen very little action.”

Lovato’s remarked capped a morning that started with stirring words of former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island that put the struggle in terms of civil rights. Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds, who received an award for his advocacy, also made an emotional appeal to the crowd. He was the lawmaker in the news late last year when he was stabbed by his mentally ill son before he committed suicide. “We cannot wait for another crisis or tragedy,” Deeds said. “Too many lives have been lost, too man families changed forever.”

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