Rosalynn Carter saw the need for mental health reform decades before the loneliness epidemic

Following the pandemic, the state of mental health in America has seen such a decline that the US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, has categorized the country’s levels of loneliness and isolation as a health crisis. public

But former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died Sunday at her home in Plains, Georgia at the age of 96, advocated for mental health long before 2020.

First, Carter recognized the disconnect between people with mental health conditions and people without them. Growing up, the former first lady had a distant cousin with a mental illness and could remember being frightened by his presence, according to CNN.

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“I probably wanted nothing more than friendship and recognition, but it was different, and when I heard it, my impulse was to flee,” he wrote in his memoir.

Reflecting on his own reaction helped Carter realize the need for improved care for people living with mental illness like his cousin, and he spent much of his time in the White House advocating for it. mental health.

She made sure to hold her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, now 99, to the same standard. Carter once recounted a time when she stood in line and waited to shake her husband’s hand at one of his events.

“What are you doing here?” Mr. Carter asked when he saw him in line, according to an article from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

“I came to see what you will do to help people with mental illness when you become governor,” he replied.

Jimmy Carter responded by saying that he aims to have “the best program in the country” for mental health, and put Rosalynn in charge, he said.

During Jimmy’s time as Governor of Georgia, Rosalynn was a member of the Governor’s Commission on Improving Services to the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped.

In 1977, she and her husband, who was the president of the United States at the time, created a Presidential Commission on Mental Health. However, Rosalynn was not able to be the chair of the committee because she received a memo from the Department of Justice that a close relative of the president was not allowed to be appointed to the post, according to CNN.

“There is, however, no problem to be designated as honorary president,” he told the press. “So, I will be a very active honorary president.”

But Carter’s work didn’t stop at PCMH. He also testified before Congress to advocate for improved mental health reform in 1979; she was the second first lady to testify before Congress, succeeding Eleanor Roosevelt.

During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, he and Rosalynn established 123 community mental health centers, he told the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in an interview.

“Now, these were not complete. Some were just an office in the middle of a small town,” he said. “But a lot of times, just an office with a phone, so someone could walk in and find out where to go for help.”

The couple also founded the Carter Center, a non-governmental organization dedicated to improving lives, in 1982, just a year after the end of Carter’s presidency. The organization has its own mental health program that aims to “bring leaders and health organizations together to discuss important public policy issues affecting mental health and substance use care systems nationwide and at the state level,” according to the Carter Center website.

“Twenty-five years ago, we didn’t dream that people might one day actually be able to recover from mental illness,” Rosalynn Carter said at a mental health symposium in 2003.

“Today is a very real possibility.”

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