Naomi Judd Opens Up About Battle With 'Life-Threatening' Depression

Judd's new book, "River of Time," details her descent into depression.

ByABC News
December 6, 2016, 8:01 AM

— -- Naomi Judd is part of country music royalty who, with her daughter Wynonna Judd, skyrocketed to the top of country music fame as The Judds.

Naomi Judd, 70, is now revealing that six years ago, out of the spotlight, she began to battle a “completely debilitating and life-threatening” depression that led to several stints in psychiatric wards.

“They think, because they see me in rhinestones, you know, with glitter in my hair, that really is who I am,” Naomi Judd told ABC News’ Robin Roberts, speaking of her fans. “I'm sort of a fantasy 'cause I want to provide that for them.

"But then I would come home and not leave the house for three weeks and not get outta my pajamas, not practice normal hygiene,” she added. “It was really bad.”

Naomi Judd, who is also mother to actress Ashley Judd, details her battle with depression, anxiety and panic attacks in her new book, “River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope.” The book represents a comeback for Judd, not with music but with a powerful message.

“Because what I've been through is extreme,” Naomi Judd said when asked why she is going public with her depression. “Because it was so deep and so completely debilitating and life-threatening and because I have processed and worked so hard for these last four years.”

Naomi Judd said she thought in her dark moments, “If I live through this, I want someone to be able to see that they can survive.”

Naomi Judd retired from her country music career as The Judds in 1991 after revealing she was diagnosed with hepatitis C. She declared herself “cured” of the disease in 1998 and resumed some performances with her daughter Wynonna Judd in the years after.

'Radical Acceptance'

The “Girls Night Out” singer said a part of her treatment for depression was to confront a difficult past that she said includes being molested by a member of her family at the age of 3 1/2 years old.

“I think that's one of the reasons I wanted to write the book ... because I never acknowledged all the bad stuff that people did to me," she said.

Naomi Judd said her immediate family members were not there to help her so she was left to rely on and trust only herself at a young age.

“I had to realize that in a way I had to parent myself,” Naomi Judd said. “We all have this inner child, and I needed, for the first time in my life, to realize that I got a raw deal, OK, now I'm a big girl. Put on your big girl pants and deal with it."

“I started in therapy and I call it radical acceptance,” she said. “Every day I exercised.”

'A Little Estranged' From Wynonna Judd

Naomi Judd said she would walk to her daughter Ashley Judd’s house one mile away and, if she was home, her 48-year-old daughter would come out to give her a comforting hug.

“Ashley and I are so stinkin' much alike,” she said. “I mean we have the same mannerisms. We both read a whole lot. We both love new places. I mean there's such similarities.”

Naomi Judd admits her relationship with Wynonna Judd, 52, is trickier.

“From the day I knew she existed, it was the two of us against the world and then through the decades we kind of grew up together, 'cause it was really just the two of us,” Naomi Judd said. “And I'm always tellin' her, ‘If I'd known better, I would have done better.’

“So Wy bore the brunt of all of the mistakes I made and we talk about 'em,” she said. “We've been through a lot of therapy together.”

The mother-daughter act last toured together in 2010 and filmed a docuseries together, "The Judds," on OWN that same year. Judd, who reunited with her daughter last year for the “Girls Night Out” residency at the Venetian in Las Vegas, says the pair are now “a little estranged from each other.”

“If she sees this, and I hope she does, 'cause the smartest thing is for all of us to feel known, no matter what's goin' on. Be truthful,” Naomi Judd said. “I think she'll say, ‘Good for you, Mom, for finally being willing to talk about the bad stuff.’"

'I Have Told My Story'

Naomi Judd said what she describes as the swollen appearance in her face and shaking in her hands are a result of medication to treat her depression.

“I really haven't been eating ice cream and candy,” she said with a laugh. “I really haven't."

Naomi Judd said her treatment has gotten her to a place where she now finds joy in her everyday life. She writes in her book that she laughs a lot and is "content and at peace."

By her side through it all has been her husband of 27 years, Larry Strickland, who has a message for the loved ones of people with depression.

“Get ready to walk that path with them, because they're gonna need, they're gonna need you every minute,” he said.

Naomi Judd has her own message for those walking the path of depression.

“I have told my story. Now you know and you can tell yours,” she said, reading a passage from her book. “You're not alone. I am still here."

You can visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s website to find general information about mental health and depression and a locator for treatment services in your area.