A monthly report from The Carter Center

Celebrities join Rosalynn Carter in fighting stigma of mental illness

For more than 20 years, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has fought to diminish the stigma of mental illness. As chairperson of The Carter Center's Mental Health Task Force, she has been instrumental in expanding and improving mental health services and facilities throughout Georgia and the nation. "I began my work as an advocate for people with emotional and mental illnesses when I was first lady of Georgia," Carter explained. "On site visits, I saw the inadequate care people were receiving in large, overcrowded mental hospitals and began trying to help get more humane and effective community-based care and more resources for treatment and research." Having served as active honorary chairwoman of the President's Commission on Mental Health from 1977 to 1978, today Carter hosts an annual mental health symposium at the center.

As part of her ongoing efforts, on April 17, as the final program in this year's series of "Conversations at The Carter Center," Carter will lead a frank discussion on the stigma of mental illness and how such negative perceptions may be countered. Joining Carter for the program, "Coping With the Stigma of Mental Illness," will be actor Rod Steiger and author of On the Edge of Darkness: Conversations About Depression, Kathy Cronkite (daughter of Walter Cronkite). Both of these notable personalities will speak candidly about their own experiences with depression and bring a personal perspective to a problem that is often misunderstood and ignored.

"I'm honored to join Mrs. Carter in her work to educate the public about the myths often associated with mental illness," said Cronkite. "She has been a leader in the fight to bring this topic to the attention of our nation, and I applaud her efforts. Personally, it is very important to me to help people understand the medical nature of depression in particular, and to spread a message of hope -- a message that reminds people that much can be done once the problem is diagnosed." Steiger also sees a great need for education. "Today, my second career is trying to help people understand about such illnesses and encourage those who need it to find effective treatment," he said. "I am delighted that The Carter Center is devoting attention to issues concerning those who suffer with mental and emotional problems, and I'm very pleased to be part of this event."

To further efforts in the fight against stereotypes and stigma, the event will be professionally videotaped, with edited versions distributed to civic organizations and mental health associations nationwide to be used in conjunction with community outreach programs. Additionally, the evening's program will include time for questions from the audience of approximately 400 people.

"In many ways we are fighting the same myths and stereotypes we were fighting 20 years ago," said Carter. "We must not let stigma undermine the opportunity we now have to finally eliminate the historic discrimination against mental illness in our nation's health care system."

"Coping with the Stigma of Mental Illness" will be held in the Cecil B. Day Chapel of the Center's Ivan Allen Pavilion from 7:30 - 9 p.m. Tickets are $6. For reservations, call (404) 420-5104.

Ann Carney is assistant communications coordinator for The Carter Center.

Return to the March 25, 1996 contents page