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Rosalynn Carter leaves legacy of mental health advocacy

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter is being remembered as an advocate and champion for people suffering from mental illness.
Rosalynn Carter leaves legacy of mental health advocacy
Posted at 4:04 PM, Nov 20, 2023

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter passed away at 96, after living with dementia and declining health. Much of how we approach mental health today, from legislation to research to destigmatizing the disease and helping caregivers, can be credited to her work.

"Mental health is too important to have the coverage and treatments put off; we should cover them now," she once said, decades ago in a press conference. 

She helped to pass the landmark legislation Mental Health Systems Act of 1980 — the first major reform of federal, publicly funded mental health programs since the '60s. 

"There was tremendous indifference about issues having to do with mental health. Many individuals were being discharged out of large state hospitals into the community," Steven Sharfstein, Rosalynn Carter's key mental health adviser, told Scripps News' "Morning Rush."

In the 1980s she also chaired the Carter Center's Mental Health Task Force, which worked together on mental illness issues for the elderly, children and adolescents, as well as family coping, financing mental health services and research, treating mental illnesses in the primary care setting and overcoming stigma.

"What Mrs. Carter was able to do was to bring people together on problems that went across the mental health field," said, Dr. Bill Foege, senior fellow for health policy at The Carter Center. 

In the late 1990s, Rosalynn Carter launched an international fellowship to fund journalists' work covering mental health stigma across the globe.

In the 2000s she fought for insurers to cover mental health conditions the same as physical conditions.

She also co-wrote three books on caregiving and mental health.

SEE MORE: Celebrating Rosalynn Carter's enduring legacy at The Carter Center

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