Mitch McConnell. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In an op-ed in a home state newspaper, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) defended his record on mental health issues -- his first direct response to critics of the comments his staff made during a campaign strategy meeting that was recorded and leaked to the press.

To those who criticized him as "insensitive to Americans suffering from depression or mental illness," McConnell wrote in the Lexington Herald-Leader that "nothing could be further from the truth."

In the February discussion of Ashley Judd's potential Senate candidacy, a McConnell staffer described the actress, based on her autobiography, as an "emotionally unbalanced" person who has "suffered some suicidal tendencies." Judd herself condemned the conversation as evidence that McConnell does not take depression seriously, as did Herald-Leader columnist Merlene Davis. McConnell addressed his response to Davis.

"I would think that even the most casual observer of politics would assume a campaign would read the autobiography of a potential opponent," McConnell wrote. "Apparently, that is lost on Davis, who was outraged that our campaign would entertain a private discussion of information made public by a prospective candidate."

He noted his support for state mental health planning grants under President Reagan, a 2004 youth suicide prevention bill, legislation mandating parity between mental and physical health benefits, the creation in 2000 of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and a 2008 bill to improve mental health care for veterans.

McConnell again compared the recording to Watergate. "I don't recall a lot of discussion in the media about what the Watergate burglars found at the Democratic National Committee back in the early 1970s and that's probably because whatever it was, it was far less concerning than the burglary itself," he wrote.

Two activists associated with the super PAC Progress Kentucky are accused of recording the conversation from a hallway outside McConnell's campaign office.