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Remembering Naomi Judd and Her Commitment to Mental Health

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Country music star Naomi Judd passed away at the age of 76 on Saturday. Her daughters Ashley and Wynonna Judd announced the news in a press release. The legendary entertainer was honored Sunday night during the Country Music Hall of Fame. She traveled and performed with her daughter Wynonna for years as part of a mother-daughter singing group.

But Judd is also being remembered for speaking publicly about her struggles with mental health. In 2016, she talked about experiencing severe depression and anxiety while releasing her book “River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope.”

Saying Goodbye

When announcing the news, her daughters wrote that they lost their “beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness.”

Naomi was open about her struggles with depression. She described her memoir as “the account of hitting rock bottom and rising again to be thankful for taking my next breath, for the gift of clear thought, for wrestling from a nightmare a way to find joy in each day.”

When promoting the book, she revealed that her depression was treatment resistant.

“They tried me on every single thing they had in their arsenal,” Judd said during an interview with Good Morning America at the time. “It really felt like, if I live through this, I want someone to be able to see that they can survive.”

She talked about how isolating living with depression can be.

“Nobody can understand it unless you’ve been there,” Judd said in 2016. “Think of your very worst day of your whole life — someone passed away, you lost your job, you found out you were being betrayed, that your child had a rare disease — you can take all of those at once and put them together and that’s what depression feels like.”

Judd also worked as a nurse before she became known as a country music star. Her experiences inspired her to advocate for better mental health care and treatment.

In an essay she wrote in 2017, she said her condition kept her “inert for two years” and that it devastated her two daughters and husband.

“I didn’t get off my couch for two years,” she revealed. “I was so depressed that I couldn’t move … My husband (Larry Strickland) and my girlfriends and Ashley would come over and I would just go upstairs and lock the door to my bedroom … You become immobilized.”

“That’s how bad it can get,” she added. “It’s hard to describe. You go down in this deep, dark hole of depression and you don’t think that there’s another minute.’”

She encouraged patients suffering from depression to ask “someone they trust” for help.

“It helps if they’ve known you a long time, because they can see that there’s a pattern. You have to raise your hand and say, ‘I’m in deep you-know-what’,” Judd wrote.

She wanted people living with depression and anxiety to feel a little less alone.

“I would come home and not leave the house for three weeks and not get out of my pajamas and not practice normal hygiene. It was really bad,” she said.

“Even in the darkest days,” Judd added. “I was never blinded to the compassion from my beloveds who continually reached down with loving hands and lifted me out of my harrowing nightmare of despair.”

Judd gave birth to her first daughter Wynonna when she was a senior in high school in the late 1960s. After she divorced her first husband, Michael Ciminella, in the 1970s, Naomi lived on welfare and worked in restaurants to pay the bills before she studied nursing.

“I’ve been on my own since I was 17 years old,” Judd said in 2006. “When I was pregnant with Wynonna, when I was 17 in my senior year of high school, nobody knew I was pregnant, my little brother was dying [from Hodgkin’s disease], my parents were getting a divorce. The guy who got me pregnant left town when he found out I was pregnant.”

She received her nursing degree from Eastern Kentucky University in 1979 and moved her family to Nashville where she made a name for herself as a country music performer.

Judd was forced to retire from performing music in 1990 after being diagnosed with Hepatitis C. She reportedly contracted the virus while working as a nurse.

She experienced a great deal of tragedy and trauma during the earlier years of her life, which may have contributed to her depression. 

“I never dealt with all the stuff that happened to me, so it came out sideways, as depression and anxiety. Depression is partly genetic, and I have it on both sides of my family,” she said.

She also wrote that performing on stage was when she felt most like herself.

An official cause of death has not been made public.

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