Here's what New Jersey Acting Gov. Richard Codey (D) tells psychiatrists
who want to stop the erosion of support for mental health services:
"Pick up the phone, and call your state legislators," urged
Codey, who is also president of the New Jersey Senate. "They respond to
that kind of concern. You'd be surprised about how few people actually
In a telephone interview with Psychiatric News, he spoke about the
stigma of mental illness and its impact on legislative priorities and his long
involvement with mental health issues.
Codey said that 1 in 5 families in New Jersey is affected by mental
illness. Yet, because few people speak openly about the disorders, legislators
do not take them as seriously as they do more commonly discussed physical
"They don't realize that a large number of their constituents have
mental illness because people are ashamed to talk about it," he
Codey and his wife, Mary Jo, have been candid about their own mental health
struggles and concerns for more than a decade.
In 1993 Mary Jo told a reporter for the Star-Ledger about her
earlier experience with postpartum depression. She described her fantasies of
killing her first child, Kevin, by drowning him or smothering him in his
Fortunately, her doctor took her feelings seriously and hospitalized her.
Since then, Codey has received various kinds of treatment, including
electroconvulsive therapy, for depression.
She stepped up her battle against stigma when her husband was about to
become acting governor.
Codey told a reporter for an article published in the November 7, 2004,
Sunday Star-Ledger, "I am using my position. I have to get this
off my chest. I don't like the stigma. I don't like the way we have to feel
She asked, "What about people who don't have money? Where do they go?
How do people treat them?"
Acting Gov. Codey said that his concern about mental illness goes back to
an experience as a teenager. His father operated a mortuary business, and one
of Codey's tasks was to pick up bodies from Greystone Park Psychiatric
On one of those occasions he talked to a patient who recounted tales of
abuse at the hospital that horrified the young man.
"Those stories always stayed with me," said Codey. "When
I became chair of the Senate's Committee on Health, we toured the state
inspecting the public psychiatric hospitals and held hearings."
In a legendary one-person operation, Codey went undercover in the 1980s at
Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital. He took a job as a night orderly, using the
identity of a deceased sexual offender.
"We later found that about one-third of those providing direct care
to patients had criminal records," he said.
Ultimately, many members of the hospital's top management were fired, and
the state established new requirements concerning background checks of
psychiatric hospital employees.
Codey maintains a direct involvement with recipients of mental health
services. He stopped to have breakfast with patients at Greystone immediately
before signing the executive order establishing the Governor's Mental Health
The Codeys' efforts to put a spotlight on mental illness have generated an"
unbelievable" response, he said.
Codey said, "People pull me aside and thank me for what we're doing.
They all have a story to tell."
He replied with an emphatic "yes," when asked whether his
budget requests for mental health services were likely to pass. ▪