Ashley Judd on Advocating for Mental Health and Witnessing Her Mother Naomi Judd’s Struggles

Katie spoke with actress Ashley Judd, Dr. Becky Kennedy, and Tarana Burke at Forbes’ Moms First Summit.

Nearly two years after Naomi Judd’s death by suicide, her daughter Ashley Judd is highlighting the importance of mental healthcare for mothers and women everywhere. Recently, Ashley spoke at the White House supporting the Biden administration’s new National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. She also participated in a panel on May 14th during Forbes’ Moms First Summit, organized with Share Our Strength, discussing what motivated her to engage in these efforts. “It’s very important for mothers to prioritize their mental health,” she stated. “I was honored to support my mom’s journey. While I couldn’t do it for her, I could walk alongside her.”

Ashley Judd was joined on the panel by activist and author Tarana Burke, and clinical psychologist and bestselling author Dr. Becky Kennedy. During the discussion, Ashley shared with Katie about her involvement in her mother’s mental healthcare: “I had medical power of attorney at times, but Mom was autonomous, and her marriage was autonomous. There were instances where I had the legal right to sign her into behavioral health treatment, but I deferred because she didn’t want to go, and ultimately it was Pop’s and her decision,” she disclosed. “So I was left with my feelings about it, and that’s where I felt powerless. My life would become unmanageable if I didn’t focus on myself and take care of myself — I have a right to a good life. And I gave my mom hope when I was happy.”

Photo credit : Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Naomi Judd died in April 2022 at 76 years old; at the time, Ashley and her sister Wynonna announced that they had lost their mother “to the disease of mental illness.” Now, Ashley has revealed more about her mother’s last moments.

“There was this dynamic where I saw her suffer, but she found joy in my good life and was very proud of me. Being proud of me brought her joy,” Ashley shared with Katie. She also recounted her mom’s final moments: “I had the honor of walking her home as she was embraced by the infinite mercy of God. I said to her, ‘I saw how much you suffered. Go be with your daddy, be with your brother, be free. All was forgiven long ago.’”

Now, Ashley is focusing on the mental health of other mothers in her life. “I have this strong chosen family and my chosen sisters,” she said. “We always support each other’s mental health. They’re all moms, and I’m a bonus aunt to their kids.”

The panel discussion also addressed the struggles mothers face in finding peace in a society that values busyness and hustle culture. Dr. Kennedy, once called “The Millennial Parenting Whisperer” by TIME, shared her observations with Katie: “I think, in a hopeful way, moms are very aware that the system around us does not set us up for success,” she said. “They see how much is expected of us, how it feels impossible to be a good enough mom, partner, and worker — and yet we’re expected to excel in all these areas. There aren’t enough hours in the day.” She continued, “[Moms] want to band together. They’re ready to set boundaries, say no, and feel worthy. They want structural support.”

Tarana Burke echoed the need for support across her various areas of work, from mentoring young Black girls in Alabama to inspiring survivors of sexual abuse with the #MeToo movement. “These young Black girls in rural Selma, Alabama needed the same thing as all these women who started saying Me Too online,” Burke told Katie. “They needed to be seen, heard, recognized, and believed. People need validation.”

Events like this panel, spearheaded by Reshma Saujani—founder of Girls Who Code and Moms First—give Burke hope that achieving this goal is possible, especially when women unite and use their voices. “People often overlook that women or mothers or survivors of sexual violence are also voters. They forget that we care enough to come together,” she said. “We are mothers — we’ve done the hardest work there is. We’ve survived the toughest things. But we’re also a powerful constituency when united. We have to keep gathering like this.”

Photo credit :@ashley_judd/instagram

Burke added, “This scares our political opponents. When we show up at 8 o’clock in the morning for events like this, it’s a daunting sight to them. They think, ‘Oh no, they’ve mobilized mothers again.’”

Ultimately, Burke believes that women already possess the tools to enact change: “We’re all right,” she concluded. “We’re much better than we think.”

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