National Alliance on Mental Illness
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November 16, 2004

New Jersey's First Family Champions Mental Health

New Acting Governor Richard J. Codey and wife, Mary Jo, make mental health reform a priority in the state.

Two days after being installed as New Jersey's Acting Governor, Richard J. Codey today signed an executive order creating a task force that will recommend ways to better help persons with mental illnesses lead normal lives.

"Nowhere is the need for help more prevalent than in the area of mental health," said Codey. "If there is anything that my administration will stand for, it is compassion and standing up for those who may not be able to stand up for themselves."

Codey's words are supported by his record. According to the Associated Press, in 1987 then-state senator Codey went undercover to investigate the care in state-run Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital by borrowing the name of a dead felon and getting hired as a night attendant. After he witnessed the abuse of patients, he became a sponsor of mental health legislation in the state.

The Acting Governor, however, is not the only advocate in the family.

On Saturday, his wife of 23 years, Mary Jo Codey, received an award from NAMI New Jersey for her efforts to raise awareness of mental illness and fight the stigma associated with it.

In accepting the award, Mrs. Codey acknowledged how stigma affected her own attempts to seek help for her mental illness.

"Twenty-eight years ago, when I was first diagnosed with clinical depression, I went to a pharmacy four towns away from the town in which I was living, wore dark sunglasses, and prayed really hard to God that no one would see me," she said.

"We've come a long way in this past decade, but there is still much work to do to lessen the stigma of mental illness," she said.

Mary Jo Codey’s public announcement and honest depiction of her experiences with clinical depression is a major step toward reducing the stigma of mental illness and elevating public awareness of mental illness as a biologically-based condition, said a statement from NAMI New Jersey.

Mrs. Codey, a special-education teacher, said she intends to remain a spokesperson for mental health in the state.

Acting Governor Codey dedicated his first day in office to mental health issues, starting the morning with breakfast at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris Plains.

Prior to signing the executive order, Codey met with mental health advocates from across New Jersey, who joined him for the signing ceremony in the Governor’s Outer Office.

The executive order establishes an 11-member Mental Health Task Force that will examine issues ranging from housing to jobs to access to care for the mentally ill. Sylvia Axelrod, Executive Director of NAMI New Jersey will serve on the task force.

Under the order, the task force is required to convene a statewide Mental Health Summit, hold at least three public hearings and form advisory committees that may include non-members of the task force.

The task force will submit a final report to the Acting Governor and the Legislature by March 31, 2005.

"This task force is not to be perceived as an excuse to study something to death," said Codey. "Its members are independent, fresh thinkers who bring national expertise. They will recommend how we can better help the mentally ill lead normal lives."