The country music world was stunned to hear that Naomi Judd had died on Saturday (April 30). The Judd family matriarch was 76. Although details of her death have not been revealed, her daughters, Wynonna and Ashley, released a statement on Twitter and cited mental illness as the cause.
“Today we sisters experienced a tragedy,” they tweeted on the day of their mother’s death. “We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. We are shattered.”
In recent years, Naomi was open about her struggles with mental illness. In her 2016 memoir River of Time: My Descent Into Depression and How I Emerged With Hope, she revealed that her battle had been a lifelong one, but it was during the 2012 Last Encore Tour that things took a dark turn. Memories of being sexually abused as a child came flooding back during that time.
“I never dealt with all the stuff that happened to me, so it came out sideways, as depression and anxiety,” Judd confessed to NBC in 2017. “Depression is partly genetic, and I have it on both sides of my family.”
Judd experienced depression and anxiety so severe that it left her immobilized for two years. Due to a lack of movement, her muscles had atrophied significantly. Ultimately she was diagnosed with treatment-resistant severe depression. Judd underwent extensive treatment for her depression, later saying, “It really felt like, if I live through this, I want someone to be able to see that they can survive.”
In an effort to remove the stigma placed on those struggling with mental health, Judd was completely transparent about what she went through after returning home from the Encore Tour. She began having suicidal thoughts during that time and had rationalized in her head that her family would be understanding if she took her own life.
“It’s so beyond making sense but I thought, ‘Surely my family will know that I was in so much pain and I thought they would have wanted me to end that pain,’” she recounted to People.
At that time, it was her family — her husband Larry and her daughters — who helped her through her pain. Judd began working on her relationship with Ashely and Wynonna and tried out new therapies and medications. In 2017, in a vulnerable essay written for NBC News, she acknowledged that she was battling a disease.
“Depression is a disease of the brain, just like heart disease is a disease of the heart and diabetes is a disease of the pancreas,” she states. “My brain simply doesn’t make any of the happy chemicals it’s supposed to, and I have to use medication to give me a chance to have a life.”
The country veteran also worked with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital. Judd wanted to strip away the stigma of mental illness to better serve the 44 million people living with the disease.
“It’s staggering how many people that is — 44 million,” she shared. “If you’ve got a pulse, then you’re fighting some battle, whether it’s a diagnosis of depression, like 16 million people, or one of anxiety, like 42 million people, or something else. And there’s power in numbers: it means that there are other people. You’re not alone.”
Most recently the Judds reunited for a performance at the CMT Music Awards. The mother-daughter duo sang “Love Can Build a Bridge.” They were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday (May 1), one day after Naomi’s death. The duo also had plans for a reunion tour in 2022. According to NBC, Naomi felt most like herself on stage.
Naomi Judd Dies: Country Stars React
Country stars mourn the loss of Naomi Judd, following her death on April 30 at the age of 76.