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Remembering Rosalynn Carter

Advocate for Mental Health, Remembering Rosalynn Carter
Remembering Rosalynn Carter, a Passionate Advocate for Mental Health

We are devoting this blog entry to something a little unusual: a remembrance of Rosalynn Carter, who was a longtime advocate for improvements in mental health care in the United States. Her willingness—insistence, really—to talk and thinking about mental health in productive ways helped improve care for everyone.

Among the best ways to honor and contribute to that legacy, it seems to us, is to take care of your own mental health.

Have you ever had an experience that seemed to change the course of your life? Sometimes a chance encounter can lead us to think about things in a new way and try to improve the world in substantial ways.

Rosalynn Carter, who recently passed away at the age of 96, had one of those experiences while her husband, Jimmy Carter, was running for the governorship in Georgia at the start of the 1970s. Mrs. Carter was already aware that conditions at the state hospital were not very good for those who were experiencing long-term mental health issues. But a particular campaign stop revealed that the issues around mental health in America extended far beyond state hospitals.

“Then one day, an incident set me on a course that would become a lifelong crusade for me,” she recalled. “At 4:30 in the morning, I stood at the entrance to a cotton mill in Atlanta, waiting for people to get off work. I saw an older woman emerge, all alone….She told me she had a daughter who was mentally ill and that she and her husband struggled to make ends meet in order to care for her. ‘I work at night while he stays with her, and he works during the day when I’m at home,’ she said. The image of the woman haunted me all day…I’d been worrying about those in institutions and their families, but how many others were struggling to care for a loved one at home, without access to any professionals at all? The scope of the problem overwhelmed me.”

Mrs. Carter may have felt overwhelmed in that moment, but she was determined to tackle the problem. And she maintained that determination throughout her time as First Lady of Georgia, First Lady of the United States, and after the Carter presidency. 

This timeline highlights the impressive scope of Mrs. Carter’s efforts from 1971 through her passing.

By 2003, Mrs. Carter felt like real improvements had been made in the treatment of mental illness.

“We know so much more [about behavioral health disorders] today, and yet the problems are still very much the same, with one exception: recovery,” she said in 2003 at the Nineteenth Annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy. “Twenty-five years ago, we did not dream that people might someday be able actually to recover from mental illnesses. 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.”

She continued to work on the issue, releasing her book Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis in 2010. In addition to writing about mental health herself, she created a program to help aspiring journalists learn to write about mental health in useful, truthful ways. All along, she kept hope at the forefront of her thinking about issues surrounding mental well-being.

“We have a great opportunity to change things forever for everyone with mental illness,” Mrs. Carter said. “The solutions are truly within our reach. We can overcome stigma, and we can make services available to all who need them and offer every individual the chance to create a happy and fulfilling future.”

Peak View Behavioral Health: No Stigma. Just Help.

At Peak View Behavioral Health in Colorado Springs, we are wholly committed to helping every person we serve improve their mental health—and maintain those improvements over time. Whether you are struggling with one of the many varieties of depression, an anxiety or panic disorder, or a disorder grounded in trauma, we can help. We provide empathetic, personalized care because no two people have an identical story or identical needs. 

If you have been delaying the decision to get the treatment you need because of fear or embarrassment, we urge you to remember Mrs. Carter’s insistence that we must leave stigmas behind. At Peak View Behavioral Health, we offer help grounded in evidence-based practices and empathy. We would be honored to help you achieve your mental health goals.

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