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In Recognition of Rosalynn Carter, Recovery Champion

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Date: December 13, 2023
Category: Recovery

“Twenty-five years ago, we did not dream that people might someday be able to actually recover from mental illnesses,” Mrs. Carter stated in 2003. “Today it is a very real possibility. For one who has worked on mental health issues as long as I have this is a miraculous development and an answer to my prayers.”

We mourn the recent loss of former First Lady and humanitarian Rosalynn Carter. For nearly 50 years, she provided unparalleled national leadership focused on improving the lives of people with mental health conditions.

In 1982, she co-founded the Carter Center with her husband, former President Jimmy Carter. In 1991, she co-founded the Mental Health Program at the Carter Center. This program, under Mrs. Carter’s leadership, became a “hotbed” of public policy activism. She hosted an annual Mental Health Symposium convening national leaders, advocates, policymakers, and consumers of mental health services to support reform and improvement in the field. She convened this symposium for 32 years, and relentlessly pursued the program’s four strategic goals:

  • Reduce stigma and discrimination against people with mental illnesses
  • Achieve equity for mental health care comparable to other health care
  • Advance promotion, prevention, and early intervention services for children and their families
  • Increase public awareness worldwide about mental health and mental illness.

Mrs. Carter used the symposium for the rollout of the first ever U.S. Surgeon General’s report on Mental Health in 1999 and the supplement: Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity in 2001 produced by Surgeon General David Satcher. This also was the platform for Mrs. Carter’s tireless advocacy for parity, coupled with her walking the halls of Congress advocating for the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) passed in 2008.

Recognizing the role that journalists play in shaping public understanding and debate about mental health care issues, Mrs. Carter established the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism to help journalists accurately report on a wide range of mental health issues. Since 1996, fellows have produced more than 1,400 stories, documentaries, books, and other works and their projects have garnered Emmy awards and nominations for the Pulitzer Prize.

When her husband was Governor of Georgia, Mrs. Carter served on the Governor’s Commission to Improve Services to the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped. When he was President, she served as Honorary Chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health which led to the passage of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.

Mrs. Carter also established the Rosalyn Carter Caregiver Institute and authored Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends, and Caregivers.

I had the personal honor of participating in several of Mrs. Carter’s symposia and other-related work. The event was always an outstanding opportunity to be educated on the pressing issues facing the nation and to be able to connect with other leaders. I will always remember escorting her to the stage during one of her symposia as we addressed the audience.

Mrs. Carter always welcomed and championed people in recovery at these and other activities. Her quote above demonstrates how she was one of the few ‘early adopters’ of the concept of recovery and recognized this framework as a key factor during her decades of work. Mrs. Carter will be missed but her legacy of work continues to inspire us to foster improved opportunities for a life in the community for all people impacted by mental health conditions.

photo of Paolo del Vecchio and Rosalynn Carter