My Mind & Me is the latest documentary to chronicle a megastar’s mental health struggles

The celebrity mental health screen saga is officially now a thing. Jonah Hill and Demi Lovato aren’t the only Hollywood stars recently revealing their most personal mental health challenges on the screen. Actor and singing superstar Selena Gomez follows suit in the unsparing Apple TV+ documentary, “Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me.” Gomez, we quickly learn, has had a lot going on for a long time. 

Physically, she suffers from the chronic autoimmune disease lupus; she’s undergone chemotherapy to treat the condition. On the mental health front, she has endured panic attacks, anxiety and depression. As the documentary also details, in 2016 she canceled a world tour to promote her album “Revival” because of her mounting  physical and mental health challenges. 

In 2017, she had a kidney transplant, which proved necessary due to lupus-related organ damage. The next year, she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital suffering from psychosis and paranoia, an experience that led to a bipolar disorder diagnosis. (The disorder likely triggered the psychotic break, she later learned.) “I felt a huge weight lifted off me when I found out,” Gomez has said. “I could take a deep breath and go, ‘Okay, that explains so much.’”

Like other celebrities who share their mental health struggles, Gomez wants to help others who are grappling with these conditions. And she’s doing it in a forum she’s very familiar with: in front of a camera. The former Disney child star has been working in the industry since she got her start on the children’s show “Barney & Friends.” As a teen, Gomez went on to star in the popular series “Wizards of Waverly Place.”  But it’s only relatively recently that she has begun to prioritize her mental health.  

I felt a huge weight lifted off me when I found out (about my bipolar diagnosis). I could take a deep breath and go, ‘Okay, that explains so much.

Selena Gomez

In the documentary, she discloses that she’s been admitted to treatment centers four times due to mental illness. It took work, she says, to figure out the right medication regime and behavioral therapy support to treat her disorder and set her on a path to healing.

Shot over the course of six years, the Gomez documentary is directed by Alek Keshishian, a film and music-video director lauded for the game-changing 1991 biopic “Madonna: Truth or Dare.” The film is raw, frenetic in places, often unflattering, sometimes overwrought. 

Selena Gomez at the American Music Awards in November 2016 Tinseltown/Shutterstock

There’s also a bit of a disconnect for a documentary with “My Mind & Me” in the title.  It spends a ton of time on the glam side of stardom – all that fancy fashion, fan worship, and international private jet-setting, all those minders and makeup artists constantly tending to the singer’s needs – while Gomez appears mostly miserable through it all. Cue the dark side of celebrity life. This documentary feels very much like a film about a famous person.

Gomez doesn’t owe us any specific details, as NBC Think’s culture writer Patricia Grisafi notes in an insightful piece on the film. Yet Grisafi was still disappointed that Gomez chose to speak only in generalities and vagaries. “We see her lying in bed a lot – and for anyone who has ever suffered from depression or anxiety, you know that’s code for things are not that rosy,” writes Grisafi, a fellow sufferer. “But sometimes it’s difficult to parse what’s exhaustion from her career and exhaustion from her health problems. Perhaps that’s the point.” 

“Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me” inadvertently underscores the difficulty in trying to be transparent about mental health challenges when you’re a celebrity with the  pressure to stay on brand.

“No one thinks that you need to say that: ‘bipolar,’” an assistant notes in a scene as Gomez prepares a speech for a gala at a prestigious psychiatric hospital, where she is slated to receive an award for her mental health advocacy. “You’re 27 years old and you’ve got plenty of time to tell the world that exact thing,” the team member says. “Unless you are determined that now is the time you want it out … [then] that becomes the narrative, right there.” 

It could be interpreted as giving Gomez the chance to control her own story. Intentional or not, the underlying message here feels more like: It’s best to keep that particular diagnosis on the downlow. At the 2019 ceremony at Boston’s McLean Hospital, Gomez detailed her difficulties with anxiety and depression, but stopped short of mentioning bipolar disorder, which she had previously been treated for at the hospital.

“I struggle with my own thoughts and feelings at times, but this does not make me faulty,” she says in the documentary, while receiving the honor. “It does not make me weak, it does not make me less than. It makes me human.” That message alone – to her legions of fans, young and old – is powerful. She wants to save lives, and her own tribulations and troubles enable her to connect with people struggling with mental wellness. 

“I struggle with my own thoughts and feelings at times, but this does not make me faulty. It does not make me weak, it does not make me less than. It makes me human.”

selena gomez

Through her trauma-informed storytelling, Gomez reveals both her vulnerability and her resilience – and her hopes that others may find comfort and insights in the process. She finally revealed her bipolar diagnosis a year later in an Instagram Live with fellow Disney star Miley Cyrus. Stigma and labeling are realities and candidness is not without risk – even for international stars with far-reaching platforms. 

Gomez began working at age 7 and hasn’t stopped since. She was born to teenage parents – her father is of Mexican heritage, her Mom of Italian descent – and she was raised largely by her maternal grandparents in modest circumstances in a suburban Texas town. She moved to Los Angeles at age 11 and spent her high school years being taught on set. At age 16, she signed her first record deal.

Despite her mental health challenges, she’s had an enormously successful career. Gomez executive produced the 2019 Netflix television series “Living Undocumented,” a subject the third-generation Mexican-American has a personal connection to.  She also served as an executive producer on the 2017 Netlfix series “13 Reasons Why,” the controversial series adapted from a novel about the aftermath of a high school student’s suicide. 

During the pandemic she cooked up the HBO Max series “Selena + Chef” and stars in the Hulu mystery-comedy series “Only Murders in the Building” with Steve Martin and Martin Short; she is also one of the show’s executive producers. The latter earned Gomez critical acclaim: She won the Hollywood Critics Association TV Award and People’s Choice award for her acting on the show and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy as a producer.

Her singing career is equally impressive. Gomez has eight hit songs in the U.S. Billboard top ten, including “Come & Get It,” “Good For You,” and “Lose You to Love Me.” She has received numerous record and music industry accolades. A major social media influencer, she is the most followed musician and actress on Instagram (359 million and counting; though to protect her mental health she now outsources social media posting to an assistant). She has her own makeup, clothing, handbag, fragrance and cookware lines. 

Gomez, who considers philanthropy a major calling, has worked with numerous charities and has served as a UNICEF ambassador since 2009. “Selena + Chef,” for instance, feeds her philanthropic goals (the show has raised more than $360,000 for 20+ nonprofits during its first two seasons).

In the documentary, Gomez’s difficulties are a constant companion, yet she still manages to flash her winning smile and dole out Selena-style bear hugs on a regular basis to friends, family, fans, strangers – whomever happens to be in her orbit. The film also tracks her perfectionist streak, which can serve to derail her. Fame, as it appears here, seems lonely and hard; Gomez voices journal entries that reinforce that impression. 

In the midst of it all, the bipolar disorder diagnosis seems to come as relief. She knows what the fallout will be – she’s been in the media spotlight for two decades at this point – but Gomez eventually decides to talk openly about her diagnosis anyway. That’s particularly courageous as a member of the Latinx community: It can be challenging for people from marginalized or minority groups to talk about mental health issues, which can carry a heavy stigma in their communities. She does it anyway.

“I am grateful to be alive. Clearly I’m still here to use whatever I have to help someone else.”

selena gomez

The film follows Gomez back to her decidedly unglamorous roots in Grand Prairie, Texas, then across the world to Kenya, London, and Paris before returning to the U.S. Wherever she goes, Gomez juggles work, responsibilities and commitments, along with her fragile mental state. The documentary brushes up against Gomez’s body image issues, suicidal ideation and self-harm, a challenging childhood, the stress of being under the media microscope, and the double bind of managing a forever physical condition along with a complex and chronic mental illness. In scenes where she interacts with others who have experienced mental ill health, she is unwaveringly kind and compassionate. She understands.

The documentary doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat bow. Gomez is, she says, a work in progress, and dealing with mental illness will always be part of her life. Now 30, she recently created the Rare Impact Fund, an off-shoot of her cosmetic company Rare Beauty. The nonprofit fund works to increase access to mental health care for young people.  She’s also a cofounder of the free “mental fitness” platform called Wondermind.  

“I am grateful to be alive,” Gomez says in the film’s trailer. “Clearly I’m still here to use whatever I have to help someone else.” She hopes the documentary will resonate with people who have mental health issues and can’t or haven’t yet found their own voice. “It’s kind of like I’m sacrificing myself for a greater purpose,” she says in a Rolling Stone cover story timed for the documentary’s release. “I almost didn’t put it out.”

Selena Gomez signing at the Jingle Ball 2011 in Sacramento, California (Randy Miramontez/Shutterstock)

But she did. “It can feel empowering when you find the right space to share your story,” Gomez explains in an interview on Wondermind. A new chapter is emerging: She met with President Biden to discuss developing a school curriculum centered on mental health. In May, she was part of a partnership that coordinated the first White House Mental Health Youth Action Forum which included First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

In the Rolling Stone story, Gomez is frank about her ongoing issues: She reveals that she might not be able to have children if she stays on her current medications and recalls how she forgot certain words while on psychiatric drugs that may have been wrongly prescribed. “Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me” is no cautionary tale that ends tragically, as many pop biopics do. Gomez is still standing, a quintuple threat (singer-actor-producer-entrepreneur-advocate), trying to take care of her own mental health while serving as a mentor and role model to others. “I’m just grateful for anyone who is willing to share their story and be brave, and take a few moments of their day to make someone else’s day,” she says. “I hope this will let people know it’s okay to feel all of the emotions that they do.”