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Mental Health Program

Our Goal

Under the leadership of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, a longtime champion for the rights of people with mental illnesses, the Carter Center's Mental Health Program works to promote awareness about mental health issues, inform public policy, achieve equity for mental health care comparable to other health care, and reduce stigma and discrimination against those with mental illnesses.

How Common are Mental Illnesses?

Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States and around the world. Around one in five American adults experience some form of mental illness.

Even the most serious mental health conditions can be treated, however, allowing people to better contribute to their families and communities.

Our Strategy

The Mental Health Program uses the Center's convening power to bring together health leaders and organizations to discuss important public policy issues facing mental health and substance use care systems nationwide and at the state level. In addition, the Mental Health Program is part of an international effort to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with mental health and substance use conditions. The Center works with key partners at the government and community levels to help build sustainable mental health care infrastructure in post-conflict Liberia.

Public Policy

Health care policy is shifting from a focus solely on the management of illnesses toward one that proactively creates health and well-being in individuals, organizations, and communities, otherwise known as population health. Population health focuses on building “cultures of health” in order to reduce the burden of disease and maximize overall health and well-being. Evidence shows that behavioral health plays a major role in the successful completion of these efforts. Therefore, the Mental Health Program has undertaken a multiyear endeavor to help ensure that the consideration of behavioral health and well-being is at the center of efforts to manage the health of populations. To ensure success, the Mental Health Program develops tools and strategies that utilize evidence-based approaches to prevention, treatment, and health promotion. 

Mental Health in Georgia

In the state of Georgia, the Mental Health Program works in three areas: integrating behavioral health care into primary care, monitoring a settlement agreement between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice, and implementing a child and adolescent mental health initiative. The annual Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum is dedicated to updating the public on the state’s progress complying with an agreement to move mental health patients out of institutions. The program works with Casey Family Programs on improving the well-being of children in Georgia who fall between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems and who have significant behavioral health needs.

Stigma Reduction 

As part of an international effort to reduce stigma and discrimination, the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism provide stipends and training to journalists to support reporting on topics related to mental health and substance use issues. Fellowships currently are awarded to journalists from the United States, Colombia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates; previously they were awarded to journalists in Romania, South Africa, and New Zealand. The fellowships develop a cadre of better-informed professional journalists to more accurately and sensitively report information and influence peers and important stakeholders to do the same.

In efforts to expand national and international dialogue on stigma against people with mental illnesses and substance use conditions, the Mental Health Program works with organizations and leaders in the stigma-reduction field providing expertise in media and mental health. The program has worked closely with organizations such as the World Psychiatric Association, California Mental Health Services Authority, Global Anti-Stigma Alliance, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Results from these collaborations have included significant conferences related to stigma reduction, a media guide for journalists, and a national report on the evidence that supports ending discrimination against those with behavioral health conditions.

Mental Health in Liberia

The Center's Mental Health Program in Liberia partners with the government of Liberia and other local stakeholders to train a mental health workforce, assist the Ministry of Health in implementing the national mental health policy and plan, implement anti-stigma programming, and empower mental health servicer users and family caregivers. 

Results and Impact

  • Mrs. Carter played a key role in the passage of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which ensures that mental illnesses are covered by insurance at parity with other illnesses.
  • Working with the Liberian government, the Center has helped to create a corps of over 250 locally trained and credentialed mental health clinicians now serving all 15 counties in the country; over 100 of those clinicians specialize in children and adolescents. 
  • Since the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism were established in 1996, fellows have produced more than 1,500 mental health-related stories, documentaries, books, and other works during and after their fellowship year. Their projects have garnered an Emmy, Pulitzer Prize nominations, and other awards. One in seven domestic and international fellows report that their fellowship project resulted in changes to local, state and/or national behavioral health policies or programs. 
  • From 1985 – 2016, the annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy has brought together national leaders in mental health to focus and coordinate efforts on issues of common concern and recommend action steps.
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"We have to get the word out that mental illnesses can be diagnosed and treated, and almost everyone suffering from mental illness can live meaningful lives in their communities."

– Rosalynn Carter

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The Carter Center is committed to creating a world where every child, woman, and man has the opportunity to live in peace and enjoy good health.

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