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Country star—and one half of the duo, The Judds—Naomi Judd, has been public and honest about her struggle with severe depression for years. On April 30 of this year, the battle ended as the music star died by suicide at age 76; she is survived by her husband of 32 years, Larry Strickland and her two daughters, actress/activist, Ashley Judd and duo partner/country singer, Wynonna Judd.
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According to one article written for People, Judd first began to struggle with crippling mental illness in 2012, following the wrap up of The Judd’s Last Encore tour. She had faced an empty void where long-suppressed memories of sexual abuse and other childhood traumas began to surface, causing a downward spiral into a state of depression. In an interview with Robin Roberts for Good Morning America back in 2016, with medication-induced trembling in her hands, she revealed a diagnosis that emphasized the intensity of her condition when she spoke of the vast disconnect between her public perception and her reality behind closed doors:
They see me in rhinestones, with glitter in my hair, that really is who I am. But then I would come home and not leave the house for 3 weeks, and not get out of my pajamas, and not practice normal hygiene; it was really bad…What I’ve been through is extreme; my final diagnosis was ‘severe depression: treatment resistant’ ‘cause they tried me on every single thing they had in their arsenal and I really felt like if I lived through this, I want someone to be able to see that they can survive ‘cause there’s 40 million of us out there.
As if the situation was not devastating enough in light of the recent tragedy, a letter the singer wrote in 2018 during Mental Health Awareness Week has been re-shared. In this letter, she vocalizes the importance of de-stigmatizing mental illness so as to better understand suicide and the circumstances surrounding an act that for a vast majority of the population, seems unthinkable. Toward the top she writes, “As a singer who chronicled a lifetime battle with mental illness…and the recent deaths of chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade, [it is] clear that no amount of fame or fortune can protect people from the despair that can lead some of us to take our own lives.”
Her death was publicized just 24 hours before she and daughter/duo partner Wynonna Judd were to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The news of Naomi Judd’s death comes just before the month of May, Mental Health Awareness Month for nearly 70 years. To raise consciousness and share the importance of overall mental and emotional wellbeing, the nonprofit organization, Mental Health America, decides on a general theme for the month every year. This year’s theme is “Mental Health Month—Life With a Mental Illness,” encouraging those who live with varying degrees of mental illness to share what it’s really like to experience the world as they do. Professionals believe that much of the stigma surrounding mental health and the subsequent care it deserves and requires could be eradicated if more people not only had a deeper overall understanding, but also a vocabulary of language to use. Like any other illness, particularly that which is more easily seen or understood, mental conditions come with their own host of challenges, shortcomings, and general experiences. It has been proven time and time again through heartache and devastation that sometimes, often, even, our minds are our own worst enemy; that just because symptoms are not external or otherwise visible, does not mean that they are any less real, any less detrimental to the person struggling.
Like so many others, Judd’s heartbreaking story proves the depth and despair of mental illness. In a culture that praises health and wellness, we are reminded constantly of the discrepancy between physical wellbeing and that of the mind: it is often easier to overlook those who only suffer inside themselves than it is to insist on widespread mental health support. This Mental Health Awareness Month, share personal stories and experiences, live openly and honestly, and reach out to those who are struggling under the weight of an invisible force.
Hannah Zwemer graduated with a BA in dance and a minor in educational studies from Denison University in 2017 before moving to Orlando to work as a performer at Walt Disney World. While at Disney, she discovered her passion for writing and pursued a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in nonfiction. She is passionate about helping people in any way she can while simultaneously sharing stories that remind us that the best of us are still only human.