Judd’s letter also shed light on the relative lack of funding for mental health treatment.
Judd, 72, who was one-half of the Grammy-winning duo The Judds, wrote the letter with physician Daniel R. Weinberger, M.D., and provided some alarming statistics about suicide rates – which have risen 30% since 1999 – among veterans and individuals with mental health issues like depression and bipolar disorder.
Judd’s letter also shed light on the relative lack of funding for such issues, which are crucial to aid research into suicide prevention.
Judd has talked and written about her lifelong battle with mental illness, which at its worst point entailed suicidal thoughts, in numerous interviews and her 2016 memoir River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope.
Her struggle reached a critical point after the Judds’ 2012 tour, after which she felt as if she “literally couldn’t leave the house for weeks. I was completely immobilized and every single second was like a day.”
Judd found help from medication and therapy, including alternative treatments like acupuncture, as well as the love and support of family members like her daughters, singer Wynonna Judd and actress Ashley Judd.
She acknowledged, though, that her struggles have ebbed, not ended. “I’m still recovering myself,” she said. “There’s never going to be a pill for it. Those thoughts of suicide don’t come anymore. But I’m vulnerable. I know I can backslide.
“Nobody can understand it unless you’ve been there,” noted Judd.
To that end, she wanted to bring attention to the goal of Mental Illness Awareness Week – which the National Alliance on Mental Health and other organizations spotlight during the first week of each October – and inform the public about suicide rates and prevention.
Judd’s letter cited the recent deaths of Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade as evidence that mental illness spares no one, and that “no amount of fame or fortune can protect people from the despair that can lead some of us to take our own lives.”
The letter also spelled out, in stark details, the toll waged on individuals with mental illness by suicide – a 30% rise in such deaths since 1999, a 13.7 increase in suicide per 100,000 people ages 10 and older, and a suicide rate among veterans aged 18-34 that is twice as high as that of non-veterans – that has made death by one’s own hand the 10th leading cause of mortality in the United States.
Among individuals with mental illness, Judd’s netter noted that the facts are less clear: while suicidal behavior is often part and parcel of mental illness diagnoses like schizophrenia, depression and addiction – affecting approximately 40% of those with alcoholism and 25% of those with drug addiction – it also impacts a significant amount of the population without mental illness.
Family history may play a role in determining suicidal behavior, as studies have found that suicide can run in families and may have a genetic basis.
But as Judd notes, only properly funded research can determine the authenticity of such findings. But money for suicide research is sorely lacking – her letter cites a column by Dr. Richard Friedman which found that heart disease researchers receive 29 times the amount of federal funds than suicide prevention studies. “It’s about time we do better,” wrote Judd in her conclusion.