Rosalynn Carter, wife of the 39th President of the United States of America Jimmy Carter, passed away this past Sunday at the age of 96. She was a dedicated champion for mental health contributing throughout the path of her life to positive changes in the mental health care system.
The former first lady saw the need to advocate for change early in life as child. Rosalynn’s cousin struggled with mental illness, and she saw the lack of care he was able to receive and the stigma that he faced. When her path led to her husband becoming a public figure, Rosalynn took an opportunity to voice a need for advancement in the field of mental health and she made sure Jimmy Carter did the same.
In Rosalynn’s memoir, she recounted a story of a time she waited in line with the public at one of her husband’s rallies. When it was her time to shake Jimmy’s hand, she told him she had come to, “See what you are going to do to help people with mental illnesses when you become governor.” Mr. Carter told her he would be putting her in charge of making sure the people of Georgia had the best mental health care possible.
Rosalynn’s path led from work in mental health advocacy to becoming the Honorary Chair of the Presidential Commission on Mental Health. She also lobbied in congress to ensure that insurance companies provided adequate coverage for mental health care.
In 1979, Rosalynn testified before Congress for the Mental Health System Act. The act, signed by Jimmy Carter, provided grants to community mental health care centers just like the Hamm Clinic. These grants made it possible for those clinics to provide affordable, holistic mental and behavioral health care to their clients. Also, in 1979, Mrs. Carter addressed the World Health Organization, providing data she had previously gathered and emphasized that mental health is an integral part of overall health and identified mental health care, as a basic human right.
Mrs. Carter’s work went beyond advocating at the governmental levels. She also visited with producers, creatives, and actors in Hollywood to discuss how they could work to decrease stigma too. She encouraged them to share their own stories about mental health and to produce entertainment that decreased the stigma of mental illness.
A major part of Rosalyn’s legacy is the Carter Center founded in 1982 by the former president and first lady. The mission of the Carter Center is “guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering. It seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.”
Throughout its history, the Carter Center has helped individuals in over 80 countries, and works to strengthen international standards for human rights, observes elections to help secure democracy, and among many other things works to improve mental health care around the world. The work of the Carter Center is integral to the overall well-being of people world-wide.
Rosalynn and her legacy of leadership in mental health advocacy will not be forgotten.