Naomi Judd – a public face on a hidden problem
With the COVID-19 pandemic entering its third year and worldwide stress mounting, fans woke up May 1 to the news that Naomi Judd, Grammy-award winning singer beloved for her brave personal fight with depression, had lost her mental health battle. Dead at age 76, the public eventually learned she committed suicide.
She was not alone in her despair. Even people who were stable for decades are suddenly needing a lot more mental health help, according to Cape Cod Healthcare psychiatrist Cassandra Hobgood, MD. She is seeing an overwhelming need for mental healthcare today, noting that we are going to be dealing for a long time with the difficulties brought on by the loneliness and isolation caused by the COVID-19 quarantine.
“The pandemic behind the pandemic is the mental health problem that has been quietly percolating in the background,” Dr. Hobgood said. “It’s important to know that the COVID-19 pandemic has been really difficult in so many ways for people. We are all struggling in some way, and we are all grieving. The best thing we can do is be there for each other.”
In her own practice, Dr. Hobgood sees patients as well as her colleagues dealing with burnout, personal losses and grief. A lack of personal connection is one of the biggest reasons.
“People have lost their way of life, their jobs, their connections to other people. Families and communities have been disrupted. We’re seeing tidal wave proportions of change. Patients have not always been able to see their providers in person and have had more limited access to routine services because COVID-19 is so contagious. All of this has taken a toll because we are losing valuable personal connections,” she said.
What to Do
One thing we can do to help our mental health: reach out to each other. You need to stay connected, she explained.
“If I had one tip to offer it’s that looking out for each other is one of the best things we can do. Don’t hesitate to reach out to each other,” she said. “Is there someone you haven’t heard from in a while? Contact them. Look out for them. Getting in touch with people you haven’t seen or talked with in a while can really change their lives and yours.”
Can talking backfire? Can you absorb others’ problems and risk your own mental health? Dr. Hobgood said a mentor answered that question for her. “He said ‘our job is not to solve their problems; our job is to bear witness to their problems and to be able to sit with them when they’re in pain.’ So, as I recommend that we reach out to each other, I want to let you know you don’t have to take on others’ problems. You just have to be able to listen.”
It’s a very hard lesson to learn, especially when you are a person who wants to fix things, Dr. Hobgood admitted. “There’s a powerlessness if you can’t fix it, but you need to realize that is not what people really want. They want someone to listen, not to fix their problems.”
Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s the other side of the coin, she said. Remember that it is OK to say you aren’t feeling well emotionally as well as physically.
There are more tips for staying connected and “Just Check in on Friends” at the Mental Health America website. Mental Health America started Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S. in 1949. This year, their theme is “Tools 2 Thrive,” and their website gives tips and practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase resiliency, regardless of the situations you are dealing with.
Dr. Hobgood recommended “Tools 2 Thrive,” which includes free, easy-to-follow things you can do to help shore-up your own mental health right away. Tools include “creating healthy routines,” “finding the positive after loss,” and “processing big changes.” Each toolkit is packed with ideas and practical steps you can take.
Mental Health Awareness Month is just the impetus to talk more about a healthcare topic that has no season. Naomi Judd wrote in her book, "River of Time," that she knew she "certainly wasn't alone in her despair" — that many millions of people in the U.S. "suffer from one of the forms of depression and two-thirds of us wait too long to seek help."