Stephanie Appleby, the executive director of NAMI of Southwest Missouri, shared this photo of her and the late Country music star Naomi Judd at the NAMI convention in 2017. Judd died Saturday. Credit: Photo: Stephanie Appleby

Not long after learning that Country music star Naomi Judd died, Stephanie Appleby shared on social media a photo of the two of them at the 2017 National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) convention. 

Appleby, who is the executive director of the local NAMI chapter, said she spent quite a bit of time with Judd talking about their shared experiences with mental illness and depression. 

For many years, Judd spoke publicly about her struggles with mental illness and was a spokesperson and advocate for NAMI. 

“Her advocacy for NAMI was just so pure and so on point with what we deal with,” Appleby told the Daily Citizen. “We’ve had a lot of speakers that come to our national convention that may not have the lived experience. And I think that’s what made her situation unique. She did have the lived experience and was able to articulate what a lot of us have felt.”

Judd’s daughters, Wynonna and Ashley, announced Judd’s death on Saturday in a statement that read: 

“Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness,” the statement said. “We are shattered. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public. We are in unknown territory.”

The family has not said the manner in which Judd died, but People magazine reported Tuesday that she died by suicide. She was 76.

Appleby also struggles with depression and is a survivor of a suicide attempt. 

Acknowledging her mental illness ‘did a service’ to those living with similar health issues

She appreciated that Judd’s family included “the disease of mental illness” in their announcement. 

“I think there’s a lot of families still that will do an obituary that doesn’t disclose that information,” Appleby said. “I think just having an open dialogue helps people like me feel like it’s going to maybe be looked at as a real disease and not a behavioral issue.

“I think that did a service to everyone that lives with mental illness,” she continued, “to acknowledge that she died from a mental illness because it is a very real thing.”

Judd was open about her health struggles, as well as severe depression and anxiety. In her memoir, “River of Time,” she described her diagnosis of hepatitis C, which she said she unknowingly contracted during her time as a nurse. She said that by 1995, her doctors had told her she was completely free of the virus, the Associated Press reported

In the memoir, Judd described feeling like she had lost her identity when she returned home after a 2010 reunion tour, isolating herself at her home and dealing with crippling panic attacks. She also said that she had been dealing with trauma from childhood sexual abuse. She was admitted to a psychiatric ward at a hospital and spent time in an outpatient treatment program.

“One of the things I remember that she said to me was, ‘I don’t remember a time where I haven’t struggled with my mental illness,’” Appleby said. “It just solidified that it just knows no boundaries.

“I think the biggest thing for me was just how authentic she was and how forthcoming she was about what she was going through,” Appleby said. 

After sharing the photo on social media, Appleby said she’s heard from people who are surprised to learn that a Country music legend like Judd would struggle with depression. 

“I’m like — what? I don’t understand why people can’t wrap their head around that,” Appleby said. “It would be like saying I can’t believe she has diabetes. I mean, it doesn’t discriminate.”

Appleby wants anyone who is struggling with their mental health to reach out for help and to know they are not alone.

“There’s people out there that are living the same thing every day,” she said. “You don’t have to make a permanent decision for what could be a very temporary problem. We know with anxiety and depression, there’s ebbs and flows. Just hang on and you don’t know what sort of a lifeline you could be to somebody else.”

Need help? 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Call: 1-800-273-8255

Text: 741741 (send a text to this number and a professional will respond via text)

Find more resources at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Find a list of local resources at cpozarks.org/programs/suicide-prevention.

Burrell Behavioral Health’s crisis line is available 24/7. This is for anyone who is in crisis, as well as anyone who is concerned about someone and doesn’t know exactly where to turn or what services are available.

Call: Southwest Missouri (1-800-494-7355) Central Missouri (1-800-395-2132) and Northwest Arkansas (1-888-518-0108).

This is a free service. Burrell’s Crisis Assist Team provides immediate, 24/7 response to individuals who have a mental health crisis or are having thoughts of suicide. The team helps find resources and provides support and service on an individual basis to manage the crisis. When it is clinically appropriate, a same-day or next-day face-to-face intervention will occur.

NAMI of Southwest Missouri is located at 819 N. Boonville Ave. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

NAMI offers support groups, education and a variety of resources for those struggling with their mental health. 

NAMI’s “warm line” is available 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 417-864-3676. The warm line is for is for people who are not experiencing a crisis but want to talk with someone who has lived experience with mental illness. 

Visit namiswmo.org.

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald