Rosalynn Carter

Honoring 50 Plus Years of Mental Health Leadership

Thanks to Rosalynn Carter’s unrelenting activism for over five decades, innumerable people with mental illnesses today have access to mental health care, insurance payments for it, and the freedom to live a life of dignity and self-worth. Her activism began in 1970, when Jimmy Carter was a candidate for governor of Georgia, and continued until her death in 2023. Mrs. Carter’s passion and commitment fueled a mental health movement that will only grow stronger in the years to come.


  • May 1971 Rosalynn Carter served as a member of the Governor’s Commission to Improve Services for Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped Georgians, created by Gov. Jimmy Carter. The final report, "Helping Troubled Georgians Solve Their Problems," was issued Oct. 29, 1971.
  • February 1977 Mrs. Carter was named honorary chair of the President's Commission on Mental Health. In April 1978, the commission delivered its final report to President Carter.

Rosalynn Carter testifies on behalf of the President’s Commission on Mental Health before the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources on February 7, 1979.

  • May 1979 Rosalynn Carter testified before congress for the Mental Health Systems Act, which was signed into law Oct. 7, 1980.
  • May 1979 Mrs. Carter became the first sitting U.S. First Lady to address the World Health Assembly about findings of the President’s Commission on Mental Health and her ongoing fight to reduce stigma and improve mental health care in the U.S. She emphasized that mental health is an integral part of overall health as well as a basic human right.
  • November 1979 Mrs. Carter went to Los Angeles to urge Hollywood leaders to tell positive stories that would help diminish the stigma against people with mental illnesses.
  • 1982 Rosalynn Carter received the American Psychological Association’s Presidential Citation from President William Bevan, Ph.D.
  • November 1985 The first Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy, "Stigma and the Mentally Ill," was held in conjunction with the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine.
  • June 1990 Mrs. Carter again met with writers and producers of the Hollywood creative community to discuss ways to improve public understanding about mental illnesses through the entertainment media.
  • September 1991 Rosalynn Carter established the Carter Center Mental Health Program.

Former First Ladies Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford joined bipartisan forces to testify in the U.S. Senate and speak at the National Press Club on March 7, 1994, calling for comprehensive mental health and substance use insurance benefits.

  • March 1994 Former First Ladies Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter testified before Congress in support of including mental health and substance abuse treatment benefits in the national health care reform plan.
  • Oct. 2, 1995 The first Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum, "Within Community," was held at The Carter Center.
  • September 1996 The Committee of International Women Leaders for Mental Health held its first meeting, in conjunction with a meeting of their ministers of health. Eight first ladies and nine personal representatives signed a joint statement committing to advance mental health in their nations.
  • April 1997 The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism were established at The Carter Center.
  • 1998 Mrs. Carter wrote the book "Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends, and Caregivers."

Carters receive medal of freedom award.

  • August 1999 Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • November 1999 The Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy previewed the first Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, released in December 1999.
  • 2000 "Helping Someone with Mental Illness" by Rosalynn Carter was translated into several Eastern European languages to help advance mental health services in Lithuania, Ukraine, and the nation of Georgia.
  • November 2000 The Surgeon General's Medallion was awarded to Mrs. Carter.
  • February 2003 Rosalynn Carter told the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health convened by President George W. Bush that recovery from mental health conditions was the most significant change in the mental health field since the Presidential Commission during Jimmy Carter’s administration.
  • May 2004 In an address to the World Health Assembly, President Carter stressed that too many people still do not have access to treatments available for mental health conditions. The message was reinforced during a technical briefing on mental health and substance abuse by a number of countries and by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

Continuing the fight for mental health care, on July 10, 2007, Rosalynn Carter testified before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in favor of the Wellstone Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, calling for mental illnesses to be covered by insurance on par with physical illnesses.

  • July 2007 Mrs. Carter testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions on the need for parity for mental health and substance use disorders in insurance coverage.
  • April 2010 Rosalynn Carter wrote the book "Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis."
  • August 2010 The Liberia Mental Health Initiative was launched to improve access to mental health services and decrease stigma in the post-conflict West African nation.
  • October 2010 The Carter Center, with other mental health advocates, was named as amicus curiae to a settlement agreement signed by the state of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Justice to address the public mental health system in the state.
  • May 2017 American Psychological Association President Antonio Puente awarded Rosalynn Carter her second American Psychological Association Presidential Citation.
  • September 2018 At the direction of Rosalynn Carter, the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program launched a School-based Behavioral Health Initiative in Georgia with the aim of making access to mental health services as common as school lunches.
  • January 2020 The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program began leading the Georgia Parity Collaborative, with key stakeholders at the state and national level, to advance evidence-based policy change to achieve parity in Georgia.
  • May 2021 Mrs. Carter received the World Health Organization Director-General’s Award for Global Health during the opening ceremonies of the 74th World Health Assembly.
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Rosalynn Carter 1927-2023


From the Georgia State House to the White House and for decades after, Rosalynn Carter was actively devoted to building a more caring society.

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In Her Words

"Persons from ethnic and minority groups in our country are less likely to seek outpatient treatment. They are also more likely to have access problems related to being uninsured, underinsured, and living in underserved communities. All these factors make it difficult for them to get appropriate [behavioral health] care."

-Rosalynn Carter
Within Our Reach

Rosalynn Carter with children.

Global Health Award

WHO award

Recipient, WHO Director-General’s Award for Global Mental Health, 2021

Partner, Mental Health Action Day, 2021

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