Editor’s note: this story contains mentions of suicide.
When you’re a child it’s sometimes hard to tell that one of your parents is struggling. That was the case for actress Ashley Judd, who opened up about her mother country icon Naomi Judd‘s battle with mental illness on this week’s episode of grief expert David Kessler’s podcast, Healing with David Kessler.
“I look back on my childhood and I realize I grew up with a mom who had an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness,” Judd said of her 76-year-old Country Music Hall of Fame mother, who died by suicide on April 30 of this year after a long mental health struggle. “And there are different behavioral expressions, interactions, flights of fancy, choices that she made that I understand were an expression of the disease and I understand that and know that she was in pain and can today understand that she was absolutely doing the best she could, and if she could have done it differently, she would have.”
As with many children of parents with mental health diagnoses, Ashley said she realized over the years that she wasn’t the “cause” of her mother’s illness, but also that she couldn’t “control it” or “cure it.” Which is why when her mother died she said there was a kind of peace that came with the heartbreaking news.
“My most ardent wish for my mother is that when she transitioned, she was hopefully able to let go of any guilt or shame that she carried for any shortcomings she may have had in her parenting of my sister and me,” Ashley said of herself and her half-sister, Naomi’s singing partner in The Judds, Wynonna. “Because certainly on my end, all was forgiven long ago, all was forgiven long ago.”
The Berlin Station star also made a very important point about the language we use to describe suicide, saying that we should dropped the word “committed” in favor of saying “died by suicide” in order to remove the stigma attached to the former.
“‘Committed’ [suicide] comes from this hierarchy of punitive transgressions, and committed to an institution or an asylum,” Judd explained. “And I believe that the person who suffers from mental illness, they are trying to have some relief or escape from something that perhaps we cannot fathom or conjure or imagine for ourselves, and how fortunate are we.”
If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts and/or distress, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.