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Rosalynn Carter in new book on mental health: “For me, it’s a moral issue”

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First Lady Rosalynn Carter has been working tirelessly in the mental health field for nearly 40 years. And yet still she finds herself fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness.

"That's really been frustrating to me," Mrs. Carter said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "The one thing that holds progress back more than anything else is the stigma,” she said. "There should be no more shame or stigma attached to mental illness than any other illness."

In “Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis” – her second book on mental health – First Lady Rosalynn Carter writes of things personal and political. In one chapter, she tells of a time when she was in an automobile accident with her 2-year-old son, Jeff, and how it gave her an insight into post-traumatic stress disorder; elsewhere in the book she writes about depression in the elderly, homeless people with mental illness, and changes during the 39 years she has been active in the field. Yet despite much progress, a primary focus is on what is still to be done.

From the AP story:

“As first lady, Mrs. Carter served as the honorary chair of the President's Commission on Mental Health. It ultimately pushed through the passage of the 1980 Mental Health Systems Act, which boosted funding for mental illnesses.
“When the Carters returned to Georgia and established the Carter Center, she created a program devoted solely to mental health and eventually established fellowships for journalists who cover the issue. And she lobbied in Washington to help push a landmark bill in Congress requiring insurers to provide equality in mental health coverage.

"She's done a terrific job of putting everyone in the same room together and keeping the issue in the spotlight," said Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Mrs. Carter is the first to acknowledge more work must be done. Funding for mental health has seesawed over the years and still lags behind what's needed to provide treatment and community support services, she said. And Mrs. Carter worries the economy will slash already scarce funding for mental illness.”

From a Q&A with Time magazine:

Q. Here in Manhattan you see many mentally ill people on the street. And the problem seems to be getting worse. Why aren't these people getting any help? Why aren't they in a hospital or facility?

“We know what to do for them yet we don't do it. We know how to treat depression, we know how to treat mental illness, and we have not had the political will in our country to make it happen. People are homeless, sleeping on the streets. Yet today, with what we know about the brain, [we can help people] recover. Even those who are disabled for years can recover with proper help. I'm really frustrated. For me it's a moral issue.”

Q. Now that you've mentioned the political, what are the ramifications of the new health care law?

“It's very, very helpful. The basic health plan includes mental health and substance abuse services. So that's really good. It makes mental health professionals — and training mental health professionals — a priority. I'm really pleased. It doesn't do everything that I would like it to do but it's a great step forward.”

The Associated Press story:


The Time magazine Q&A:


Video from Rosalynn Carter’s appearance on the Today show:


An excerpt from her book on trauma and PTSD:


Buy the book from the website:


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