Juice WRLD’s Mom Talks Mental Health Awareness and Healing

    Like the Challenger space shuttle, Juice WRLD’s career took off like a rocket, only to end in a fireball of very public tragedy. But his all-too-short time as a star rapper continues to shed healing light into the mental health darkness many of his young fans wrestle with.

    Having shared his own struggles with depression and drug abuse candidly through his music (“Codeine with the Percs/Take too many, feel like I’ma die/I can’t go out like that/Ain’t tryna make my mama cry,” for example), the Chicago-born singer and songwriter who died of an accidental overdose just six days after his 21st birthday encouraged countless others to face their pain and overcome.

    It has become an ongoing mission embraced by his grieving mother, Carmela Wallace, who wants her son’s death, and even more so the enduring message of the life in his music, to somehow be a doorway to a fuller existence for young people suffering from crippling mental health issues.

    According to Forbes, Juice, who recorded his first songs on his smartphone as a young teen, was “arguably as adored as he was tormented,” and known as “a voice for the young generation and therapist to millions of kids.”

    In just a few short years, Juice—born Jarad Anthony Higgins—rose to the top of the rap world, carving out a widely acclaimed niche with his emo-rap and SoundCloud rap styles. His breakout single, 2018’s “Lucid Dreams,” has been streamed almost 2 billion times on Spotify alone, putting it among the most-played songs ever on the platform. The year after his death in December 2019—not long after he had reportedly talked about going to rehab to tackle his worsening drug use—Juice WRLD was the most-streamed artist in the United States and the fourth-most-streamed artist in the world.

    To his millions of fans, he will always be Juice WRLD, but to his mother he remains Jarad. “I can only see him in that aspect, but Juice WRLD was a part of him; there were many levels to Jarad and Juice WRLD was one of those pieces that was a part of him,” says Wallace. “They weren’t two different people. I think he used Juice WRLD as a platform to communicate his feelings and to help other people. But I know him as Jarad, my son who was kind and generous and just had a warm heart, which really manifested through Juice WRLD as well.”

    She recalls how her son would finish his concerts with some sort of positive message—love your dreams, move forward, don’t let anybody stop you. “I remember being at a concert and it was really hot. It was in Chicago, and he gave out water… he was kind and thoughtful and he was genuine and authentic… he was always that way.”

    Even when he was a small boy, Juice made an impact on people. “People would ask, ‘Who is that kid?’” Wallace recalls going with him to a bank on some business one time, and getting a note a couple of days later from someone there “just talking about him, how great it was to meet him and how special he was.”

    Saved from suicide

    Despite Juice’s well-known struggles, Wallace describes him as “comfortable in his own skin.” They talked about his issues and she tried to encourage him to seek out some professional help. “I thought it would have helped him stay balanced, help him talk through his anxiety, but his way of coping was putting it in the music. That was his way of dealing with it.”

    He would put on a happy face when he was with his mom. “But I would always check, ‘Are you OK? How are you?’ ‘Oh, everything’s fine. Everything’s fine.’ But, you know, his lyrics said something different though… that was his way of communicating how he felt.”

    Wallace knew that many people loved the vulnerability and honesty of Juice’s music, but she didn’t realize quite how deep that went until after his death, on a private jet flying back to his hometown. “I knew he was popular,” she says. “What I didn’t know was really how his music impacted people. Meaning, he was helping people… something about his lyrics just touched people. That part, I had no idea when it was going on.”

    That realization gave Wallace a sense of ongoing responsibility to Juice’s fans, to provide some help and hope for those struggling as her son did. “I said, these people are still hurting; maybe I could find a way to help and then in doing so it kind of helped me with the grieving process because I was helping other people and I got a lot of support.” Astonished to learn that some people credited Juice’s music with having kept them from committing suicide, she felt there was a void there that she needed to try to help fill. “He was helping people… something about his lyrics just touched people.”

    The result was the Live Free 999 foundation, which takes part of its name from the “Live Free” message Juice had painted on an old denim jacket. The foundation was established to encourage young people to be open about their mental health issues and seek help, and to financially support both preventative and treatment programs.

    As part of its efforts, the foundation hosted a “Let’s Talk” forum on its website ( during May to mark Mental Health Awareness Month. Noting that, globally, more than 260 million people have suffered from depression at some point in their lives and 31 million have some sort of drug use disorder, the foundation invited visitors to share their stories to let others know they were not alone.

    The moving messages highlighted the enduring impact of Juice’s music and message. Kan wrote of discovering Juice’s music after her fourth overdose. “His music to me still is a place where I can go and not feel alone. A place I can call home. A place where I am wanted,” she shared. “He has become an inspiration to me to continue living despite drug use and self-harm.”

    Jude told how he found Juice’s music “at the darkest time in my life.” Through the “deep life music” he found the inspiration to press through the trauma he had experienced. “I feel infinitely stronger and my vision is deeper than ever,” Jude said. “Thanks Juice for teaching us lessons in life and in death. I’ll forever rep 999 on my side and honor you in the best ways. Rest in peace… ”

    The messages weren’t just from young people. Among the contributors was Crystal, a fellow mom who recounted the struggles her 14-year-old son, Fowler, had experienced. Diagnosed with ADHD, depression and anxiety, and traumatic abuse syndrome, he had threatened suicide and been admitted to a psychiatric hospital, she recounted. When he had first told her how much Juice’s music resonated with him, she had been dismissive, but she later came to realize how meaningful it had been for Fowler.

    “I believe in your cause,” Crystal went on in her message to Wallace. “I believe in using your platform to reach the youth who are experiencing these mental health challenges. To know they are not alone. Fowler talks about how the group therapy part of his treatment was more beneficial for him than any of it because he was able to hear and share stories of like-minded people. Others who were going through the same real-life struggles and battles he was.”

    Wallace hopes that these sort of raw messages can be “a source of strength” to someone struggling. “You find that when people are depressed, the thing that they like to do is hide,” she tells WayMaker Journal. “You think, ‘No one knows,’ or, ‘It’s just me.’ So, I like to break that; my goal is to have a community where people realize you’re not alone. You know, ‘I’ve gone through this.’”

    No pity party

    As Juice’s career started to take off, Mom had some words of advice for him. “I said, ‘Jarad, don’t just talk about dates. Don’t talk about money and things you have. Say something.’ Well, clearly, he listened because he did, he said something.” She offers the same counsel to those starting out: “Say something. Share your struggles. Share your story. But in all that, be authentic. I think it should be a message that’s uplifting and that will encourage others,” she says. “Be yourself and don’t pretend like you’re someone else or you live a certain lifestyle that you don’t. Just be authentic.”

    Nearly three years after his death, Juice’s music continues to make an impact. Two posthumous albums have been released, the first debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The second was unveiled at a special Juice WRLD Day gathering at Chicago’s United Center Arena in December 2021. Noting Juice’s “graciousness to his listeners,” Rolling Stone called the album, Fighting Demons, “a tortured but overall grateful memento mori [a reminder of mortality] from a talented artist who left us all too soon.”

    Through Live Free 999, Wallace wants to “normalize that conversation around mental health,” she says. And while “it’s getting better,” she has been disturbed to discover that there is not a lot of data relating to mental health and Black men. “It’s like a big missing piece there and so that really bothers me—just mental health in our communities and it being taken seriously.”

    The website offers a confidential 24/7 crisis textline and referral details for other supporting services. Wallace wants to add other programs, including making more help available in schools. “Giving money is good and people could use funding, but also I’m a hands-on person,” she says. “I’d like to have more of a footprint in those communities that people are hurting or forgotten.”

    In navigating her loss while having a sense of motherly responsibility toward Juice’s many fans, Wallace has drawn on the strength of character that she developed raising Juice and his older brother on her own.

    “I just kept it moving,” she explains. “I just was focused on what I wanted, and I just did it. I’m determined and I’m stubborn, so that’s a bad combination,” she says with a slight chuckle. “I wanted my sons to see me working and I wanted to be able to provide for them, especially as I got older with Jarad because, with my first son, I was a teenage mom; I didn’t know anything.

    “I knew I loved him, but I had a lot of help with my family. Now, with Jarad I just wanted to show him a good work ethic. So, he saw a good work ethic. He saw me working hard and he worked hard too. I just focused on what I needed to do. I didn’t have a pity party.”

    Wallace never referred to herself as a single mom, “not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I just didn’t want to wear that. I wanted to be known as a mom. Being single had nothing to do with me being a mom. And I was just determined to make it, to be able to live in a way that was comfortable for my sons and myself.”

    That grit saw Wallace rise through a 20-odd-year career in quality management starting out as an administrator and working her way up to manager. Along the way she finished school and earned an MBA while working in the manufacturing, oil and gas industries. Today she’s putting all that experience into opening a brewpub in Chicago’s Homewood district.

    The human side

    Given her experience, what advice would she offer to parents of hugely successful young artists or athletes? Know who’s around your kids, their inner circles and their influencers, and be as supportive as possible, she offers. “What I did, I just tried to keep him grounded,” she says. “He knew he could call me anytime. I tried to spend as much time with him [as possible].” Wallace remembers having to learn a business she knew nothing about, the music industry. “So, I was playing catch-up, and, you know, we were blessed to have some good people come along that path to really help us maneuver through the industry because it’s a lot.”

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    She acknowledges the massive pressures on young people who find success quickly. “It’s a big adjustment.” In Juice’s case, “he went from high school to artist. There was no in-between; within a year of graduating high school he had a signed contract worth millions of dollars. So that was a huge adjustment, a whole new lifestyle for us both.”

    While Wallace wants to leverage her son’s enduring legacy to make a difference, she doesn’t want people to lionize him. Expressing displeasure at the word icon, she says, “I always try to show his human side. He was very impactful, so I won’t take that away from him,” but people tend to put stars on pedestals, she observes, “like they’re not human, you know?”

    Her Instagram account (@ms_carm_1118, with 118,000 followers) includes pictures of Juice as a kid, aiming to show that “he was just a regular boy, just like anybody else. He was very talented and he worked hard and he was blessed and he knew he was blessed, but I’d like them to remember him as just a kind, genuine, authentic person. Because that’s what he was.”

    On the second anniversary of Juice’s death, Wallace posted an online reminiscence of him excitedly finding an MP3 player she had bought for his ninth birthday and hidden in her closet. “I thought about taking it back to the store and surprising you with something else, but I decided to give it to you anyway,” she wrote. “As time passed and we talked about it, you realized that you would rather wait for the surprise than find your gifts early.”

    In the message addressed directly to her son, she told how losing him had “changed my life forever. I’m glad that we always made sure that we said goodbye when we left each other because we didn’t know when we would see each other again.”

    While it’s painful to remember her own loss, there’s healing in knowing that others are being helped. “It’s more motivating than stressful,” she says of her unexpected ambassador’s role, “because I’ve always been one to volunteer. I’ve always been one to give, so it naturally flows from me to do that. I feel like I have an obligation, but when you’re doing something that you like to do, it doesn’t really feel stressful.

    “I feel like it’s a duty; it’s a way of honoring Jarad and so that motivates me. And then, the fact that I can help people, that I’m in a position that I could positively impact someone, it’s an honor. So, I take it seriously and I serve humbly, you know, to make things a little better.”

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