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Her new book is sometimes deeply personal, describing her father's death and an automobile accident that flipped the car carrying her son, Jeff, then 2 years old. She says that for some time afterward her heart would race when reading newspaper accounts of car crashes, leaving her a small understanding of what it might be like to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mrs. Carter recalls in the book that as a girl growing up in Plains, she was frightened by a nervous young man who could be found wandering the streets. When he would grow agitated, the sheriff would haul him away, sometimes in a straitjacket, to a mental health hospital. She would learn years later that the man was the cousin of her future husband.
Mrs. Carter said she has a particular affinity with the elderly who suffer from depression because of isolation and a sense of being useless after decades in the work force. Her mother, she said, wept when at age 70 she was forced to retire from her job at the U.S. Post Office in Plains.
Even as Mrs. Carter says the mental health system remains in shambles, she argues there is reason to be optimistic.
She said when she took on the issue of mental illness, "I never dreamed that people could receive treatment, that recovery could be possible."
Today, she said, those suffering from schizophrenia can take medicine that effectively erases symptoms.
And in Georgia, which the Carters still call home, recent news is cause for celebration -- and worry.
After decades of turmoil, state officials have decided to stop admitting new patients to the Central State Hospital, the facility that first attracted Mrs. Carter's interest.
"To me, it's symbolic," she said. "But I worry about what is going to happen when people go out in the community and there aren't enough services? What will happen to those who leave?"
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