(CBS) Demi Lovato, the 18-year-old Disney star, has dropped out of her tour with the Jonas Brothers to enter a treatment facility to seek help for "emotional and physical issues," according to her publicist's statement.
What she needs treatment for is unclear, but a source close to the Lovato family told People magazine that she was bullied in school, "fought through eating disorders and has struggled with cutting."
"Demi is taking control by getting help," the source said.
The Disney star's effort to seek treatment underscores the emotional difficulties that many young women face, even celebrities, and the rise in behaviors like eating disorders and cutting to deal with them.
"For a lot of people harming their bodies is a way for them to deal with the emotional pain they don't want to feel," says Marisa Sherry, MS, RD, a New York-based nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders. "They can hide behind the physical pain."
As many as 10 million women and one million men are currently struggling with an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, and often the results are deadly. The agency claims "anorexia nervosa has the highest premature mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder."
Eating disorders are often accompanied by self mutilation such as scratching, cutting or burning oneself. It is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, anger and frustration, which can bring a momentary sense of calm, according to the Mayo Clinic. The relief is usually followed by guilt and sham and the painful emotions that make a person wan to cut in the first place always return, which necessitates more cutting.
"For young girls, especially those in the spotlight, they need to find an emotional outlet that can be hidden," Sherry tells CBS News.
Of course, we don't yet know what Lovato is struggling with, but if
she's seeking treatment for an eating disorder or cutting, then the
young Disney star is acting bravely and potentially serving as a role model for struggling teens.
"If the reports are true, then this is an incredibly courageous move that shows strength," says Sherry. "Asking for help is the hardest step in working towards recovery. It's a wonderful opportunity for other girls to ask for help too."