Actress Demi Lovato has been outspoken about her struggles with depression, bipolar disorder, and drug addiction. Thankfully, she recognized that she needed help and booked herself into rehab, but what's more heartening is that she's found a way to stay clean and sober for the past three years. In fact, she's become a known advocate for mental health and emphasizes the importance of spreading love because people "have no idea what [others] are going through, and a single smile can change someone's future." Mental illness is confounding to everyone, especially families and friends. It is the subject of #RedFlag, a new series of documentaries dealing with the trauma of living with a family member who is struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, or other maladies, which will begin airing on the HLN network on May 5. The first episode deals with some of the same issues Demi has related to. It also looks at the role social media is now playing in the acknowledgment and treatment of these ailments.

Unfortunately, mental illness can still be embarrassing and shameful to people. This can then lead to their remaining reluctant to seek out information about it, and consequently being unaware of the treatment options that are available. The good news is that social media can actually have an important impact because it sometimes can function as a form of group therapy. It offers a connection, the sense that we are all going through the same thing together, and creates empathy, shared understanding, and a feeling of camaraderie which are a core elements of the power of the group.

The people who use social media express the turbulence that they are living through. Until they are able to get the necessary professional help, this outlet serves as a way station so they are not suffering silently alone. When they reach out to others in a similar predicament, they can experience having their feelings heard free of judgement.

In some aspects Facebook and Twitter are now comparable to the talk show forum in that they offer the opportunity for people to tell their stories openly and be listened to. Rather than masking or hiding the pain they are going through, people are able to make it real, which can have a powerful impact on those who already feel disconnected from others. It just may be that social media is becoming the help and suicide hotline of this decade.

There is a downside, however. While people have the chance to vent their distress, which can lead to relief, it can also perpetuate remaining uninformed about professional help available and resistant to getting it. In other words, they may have enough momentary escape from their troubles to carry on, but might not then feel compelled to acquire the tools they need to start to heal. It can be like a tourniquet on a bleeding limb, you can save a life but there is still the bleeding arm to deal with.

I had a chance to preview the pilot of #RedFlag, and it drove home the fact that in some cases people weren’t getting the necessary treatment to begin the healing process. In it you see family members expressing their wish that the ill person just do what they viewed as an easy request, whether it was to pay more attention to the children or take care of a mother. This demonstrated that they were clearly unaware of the enormity of what they were asking. It seemed simple enough to the person making the request, but to the sick person it was like asking them to climb an impossible mountain. Inherent in each request was the denial of the severity in nature of that person’s illness, the wish that they were healthy, and the hope that they could just do this one simple thing.

There is a moment in the documentary when a woman struggling with bipolar disorder says on Twitter that life didn’t come with instructions, and this is true. That’s why social media can function as a source for information that may end up directing people to places they could find help. That is exactly why Demi’s position is such an important one. She has informed people, with the help of the Internet, about her own personal battle and the help she got, and in so doing has put the discussion of mental health in the mainstream. Her pioneering behavior is to be applauded, and will hopefully provide more healthy roads for people who are suffering to travel in the same healing direction she did. Along those lines, this new documentary series #RedFlag has the potential to do the same thing.

Demi has been open. She has shaken off the shame. She is a role model for seeking out and maintaining mental health. She is a real inspiration in her honesty and willingness to truthfully share her personal turmoil in order to educate the public to the toll it can take. She shines the light on help and hope so that those who are still suffering can reach out for support and relief. By doing this, she has turned her adversity into positivity for others.

Please tune in to the Doctor on Call radio hour on HealthyLife.net every Tuesday at 2 PM EST, 11 AM PST. First and third Tuesdays are Shrink Wrap on Call, second Tuesdays are HuffPost on Call, and the last Tuesday of the month is Let's Talk Sex! Email your questions dealing with relationships, intimacy, family, and friendships to Dr. Greer at askdrjane@drjanegreer.com.

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