Naomi Judd Details Severe Depression Battle In New Interview

By David Konow 12/04/17

"Mental illness is a disease, just like heart disease or diabetes. Depression is a disease of the brain. It’s not a character flaw. It’s nothing you can control."

Naomi Judd

Alongside her daughter Wynonna, Naomi Judd has won five Grammys and had over 20 hits that hit the top of the charts. But behind the scenes, the country music legend was caught in a secret struggle with depression that at one point left her seriously contemplating ending her life.

She recently spoke with Sounds Like Nashville about her childhood struggles, depression battle and why she decided to share her mental health issues with the world.

“When I was a child, people really didn’t pay attention to me – I didn’t get the demonstration of love and belonging that I always craved. Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton told me that they didn’t either when they were growing up… for different reasons," Judd explains. "I say all of that to say that a lot of entertainers, when they think about which direction their life is going to go in, and when they think about a career, they choose to become communicators. That’s really what I do. I write the songs.” 

Judd chronicled her struggles in the 2016 memoir River of Time: My Descent Into Depression and How I Emerged With Hope. In writing River of Time, Judd laid out her mental health struggles in brutally honest detail. She called the in-depth memoir, “a survival manual. It tells people how to get through it, and offers them the things that I use to keep my sanity, and keep myself happy.”

In the book, Judd described a rough upbringing and the sexual abuse she reportedly suffered at the hands of an uncle. Outside her traumatic upbringing, she sought love, approval and empathy from audiences. “I began to develop this amazing kinship with the fans,” Naomi recounts. “So when I was going through stuff, I would connect with them, as if to say, ‘Here’s what I learned. What are you going through. How are you?'”

Judd’s major depression hit in 2012, and it became so severe, she had to be hospitalized. “I was diagnosed with the one called severe treatment resistant—which means they tried every medication, electroshock convulsive therapy, where they plug you up with electrodes all over your head, and shock you into grand mal seizure. That type of depression is as bad as it gets," Judd shares.

“Mental illness is a disease, just like heart disease or diabetes. Depression is a disease of the brain. It’s not a character flaw. It’s nothing you can control. You have a disease of the brain, because it doesn’t make the good chemicals that you need to be comfortable and happy," Judd explains. "You can’t treat it like a broken arm. It’s not a handicap. When you have depression, other people only know it by the way that you are acting in front of them, unless you tell them that you are going through the dark night of the soul.”

Judd decided to go into graphic detail in her book to let her fans to know they can make it to the other side like she has. “I want the reader to know that I’ve been there. I get it. And, I am standing in front of you right now and telling you that there is hope.”

Now, when Judd sees the bridge where she almost ended her life, she says, “It might sound crazy, but that bridge gives me hope today. I was really at my lowest point. Now it’s like looking in a rearview mirror. When you have lived through a tragedy and you’re on the other side of it, you want to reach out and help everybody that you can that are still back there, standing on that bridge thinking of something disastrous.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.