It has been almost thirty years since President Jimmy Carter and his wife, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, left the White House. In that time, both President and Mrs. Carter have worked tirelessly on humanitarian efforts and both, now in their eighties, continue to work for multiple causes, never assuming that their octogenarian status implies that they should retire or that their work is somehow finished.
Rosalynn Carter has spent more than thirty-five years as an advocate on behalf of mental health issues, and on Friday, May 7, she brought her campaign to the National Portrait Gallery, discussing mental health and signing copies of her latest book, Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis.
One of the inspiring stories Mrs. Carter tells is that of Joel Slack, a former patient who suffered from psychiatric disorders in the form of schizophrenia. After his initial breakdown, Slack underwent years of treatment. He eventually became a mental health advocate and founder of Respect International, whose mission is “an advocacy, humanitarian, and educational non-profit organization, created out of the need of persons with psychiatric challenges to be treated with respect, to experience hope, and to be provided with the basic needs to live.” In Within Our Reach, Slack states that family became the final part of his healing process, as “My wife and daughter have helped transform me, to take me from a life of a psychiatric patient to a real personhood.”
Mrs. Carter concludes, “It is that impulse toward full personhood that I wish for everyone who has lived and struggled with a mental illness. I am sure that one day soon it will be possible—it is within our reach.”