Former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter discussed two of their life’s passions since leaving the White House — mental health and global health — in remarks before the Association of Health Care Journalists conference Thursday in Atlanta.

Speaking before an enthusiastic audience of hundreds of health reporters, the Carters discussed their work on both issues, including the work of the Carter Center. Through its efforts, the Carters and their partners have helped eliminate 99 percent of cases of Guinea worm disease, a debilitating parasite, from an estimated 3.5 million cases in 1986 to 3,190 reported cases in 2009.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter speak to Association of Health Care Journalists conference

Former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter speak to reporters at the Health Journalism 2012 Conference in Atlanta on Thursday. Photo by Tricia Warin

Rosalynn Carter, a long-time mental health advocate, underscored the importance of fighting the existing stigma surrounding mental illness so that those suffering are not afraid to seek help. She urged journalists to write about this important topic and bring it to the forefront.

“There should be exactly equal treatment on physical and mental health,” she said.

While bothered by the fact that mental health care commonly gets overlooked, she did acknowledge that this is starting to improve.

She expressed concern that the Mental Health Parity Act has still not been fully implemented. The Carters blamed insurance companies as well as the current political climate among the reasons why this has not yet happened.

She also spoke about how people can recover, even from serious mental illness, and said those stories of success need to get out there. She listed Abraham Lincoln as an example of a successful leader who grappled with depression but was able to overcome it.

Her interest in increasing the accuracy of reporting of mental health issues gave birth to the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism, which provide stipends to journalists to report on the topic to promote public awareness of mental health issues as well as to erase the stigma associated with them.

During the session, the former president was asked what will happen if the Affordable Care Act is overturned by the Supreme Court. He noted that 31 million Americans did not have health insurance and this is a grave problem. They will suffer, he said.