Former First Lady Roslynn Carter, who passed away on November 19, was a forerunner for the rights of people with mental illness. She and President Jimmy Carter formed The Carter Center dedicated to improving the quality of life for people at home and in the developing world through programs to alleviate suffering and advance human rights. One of Mrs. Carter’s priorities was to reduce the stigma of mental illness and improve the lives of individuals who experience mental health challenges.
The Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition’ mission reflects Mrs. Carter’s trailblazing work to reduce stigma. Sharing stories about struggles and successes of people with mental illness reduces stigma and encourage people to get the help they need.
Mark Nowak, Director of Marketing for BryLin Hospital says that Mrs. Carter’s advocacy has changed the way mental illness is viewed.
“Mrs. Rosalynn Carter’s unwavering commitment to improving the lives of people with mental illness has left an indelible mark on the field of mental health advocacy. Her tireless efforts to reduce stigma, expand access to care, and champion evidence-based treatments have transformed the way we understand and address mental health challenges,” said Nowak.
“Her work has not only impacted countless individuals and families, but it has also paved the way for a more just and compassionate society,” he said.
Her work has not only impacted countless individuals and families, but it has also paved the way for a more just and compassionate society.
Director of Marketing for BryLin Hospital
Mrs. Carter’s official biograph from the Carter Center highlights her significant accomplishments.*
Carter established the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program to combat stigma and discrimination against people with mental illnesses and promote improved mental health care in the United States and abroad.
She chaired the Carter Center Mental Health Task Force to influence public policy; hosted an annual gathering of national mental health leaders to foster greater consensus on pivotal national policy issues; and established the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism to encourage accurate, in-depth reporting about mental health issues.
Recognizing the toll that caring for a loved one with mental illness has on a family, Mrs. Carter founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers (RCI) at Georgia Southwestern State University to support those who selflessly cared for others. Initially helping caregivers in Georgia through direct service programs. today it serves all family caregivers, who number over 40 million in the United States. Under Mrs. Carter’s leadership, the RCI has increased public awareness of caregiver needs, advanced public and social policies to support caregivers, and become a catalyst for change.
Photo: The Carter Center
Local Man Reflects on Mrs. Carter’s Legacy
William Pierce, a Buffalo native, and management consultant was a fellow at the Carter Center from 2016-2017 while a graduate student studying public health at Emory University. During his fellowship, he had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Carter and witness her dedication to improving the lives of others.
“Mrs. Carter was very active at The Carter Center, and made a point to meet fellows, interns, and staff,” Pierce recalls. “She was very involved in developing mental health programs.”
One of her priorities was eliminating the stigma of mental illness and advocating for people with mental illness and their families.
“Word choice was very important to her when it came to discussing mental health,” Pierce said. “She didn’t like the word crazy; it was too blunt and encouraged negative stereotypes. She was a strong advocate and would respectfully and politely ask for words to be changed.”
Mrs. Carter’s work also affected the way the topic of mental health is covered in the media. Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism offers journalism fellowships to support and encourage accurate and better-informed reporting on mental health and substance use issues.
“Carter fellows publish in prominent newspapers and have been awarded prestigious journalism prizes,” Pierce said.
The Language Guide for Reporting on Mental Health is the go-to style guide for reporters covering mental health and substance use, providing guidelines that aim to avoid stereotypes and reduce stigma. Visit mentalhealthjournalism.org for more information on this project.
Word choice was very important to her when it came to discussing mental health. She didn’t like the word crazy; it was too blunt and encouraged negative stereotypes.”