Remembering Rosalynn Carter: A Champion of Mental Health and Caregiving

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, November 21, 2023

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By Ken Gustafson

AMERICUS – Rosalynn Carter was involved in many things as the first lady during her husband’s administration and long after that, but two of her most passionate things that she was involved in were mental health and care giving.

Dr. Jennifer Olsen, CEO of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers at Georgia Southwestern State University, had the privilege of working with Mrs. Carter for the past five years.

“Working with Mrs. Carter was the privilege of a lifetime because she was an amazing leader, but with a deeply empathetic and listening approach to everything she did,” Olsen said.

Dr. Olsen remembers a particular story about her interaction with Mrs. Carter in which she was having a conversation with the former first lady. “We were talking about what needed to change for caregivers both in the state of Georgia and across the country,” Olsen said. “She was thinking about what needed to happen in Washington, D.C. and while we were having this conversation about big change, she ended the call reminding me to check on one of our neighbors in Plains who had just brought someone home from the hospital and was caring for them, to check and see how they were doing and see if there was anything we could do to help. I think that that is exactly an example of how she operated her whole life. She both was thinking about big visionary change and engaging in listening to the experience of each individual who was going through the journey for both mental health and caregiving.”

Dr. Olsen went on to say that the city of Americus should be really proud of being the home of an institute that has served to support millions of families and friends across the country who are caring for someone who is ill, aging or disabled, whether that’s somebody caring for a veteran returning home from war or caring for someone with a cancer diagnosis or a dementia diagnosis, or any other type of serious health issue. “The training and the advocacy that has happened has all started out of the campus of Georgia Southwestern State and we have built relationships with big national organizations from Sesame Street to FEMA to look at ways to support caregivers,” Olsen said. “Often, people not knowing about the institute or Mrs. Carter’s history in caregivers and we get to share that and share where we’re based.”

As far as what we can all learn from Mrs. Carter’s example, Dr. Olsen stated that people should always check on the people around them because they never know what somebody might be going through. She stated that somebody at the grocery store or somebody at church may be a caregiver who is taking care of somebody with a substance abuse problem or any other type of mental or physical issue. “We all have a role to play in supporting these invisible, or often invisible heroes amongst us,” Olsen said.