TRENTON – Senate President Richard J. Codey was presented with the “Mental Health Champion” award by NAMI-NJ (National Alliance on Mental Illness – NJ Chapter) at the Statehouse last week for his tireless advocacy on behalf of mental health issues in New Jersey.
NAMI-NJ is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families who are affected by mental illness. The award is given to individuals whose contributions lead to better quality care, treatment and understanding of mental illness.
Since his earliest days in the legislature, Sen. Codey has been known as one of Trenton’s biggest advocates for mental health. Early in his career, Sen. Codey exposed major problems in state psychiatric hospitals when he assumed the name of a deceased convicted criminal and was hired at Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital. His now legendary “undercover” operation led to reforms that have significantly improved the quality of care for patients in mental health facilities.
As Governor, Codey continued to bring the struggles of the mentally ill to the forefront of the public’s attention. His first official act was to establish the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health to report to him on the direction New Jersey should take in delivering improved services to its mentally ill. During his fourteen months as governor, Codey was successful in implementing more than 90 percent of the task force’s recommendations, resulting in a dramatic improvement in New Jersey’s mental health system.
These improvements included legislation, which Codey both sponsored and signed into law, that established a Special Needs Housing Fund, which will help create 10,000 new affordable housing opportunities for people with mental illness and other special needs. He also signed into law a plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loans for new qualified college graduates who enter the social services industry. Along with his wife Mary Jo, he launched a statewide postpartum depression awareness campaign. His most recent efforts – a bill that requires doctors and healthcare professionals to screen and educate all new mothers for postpartum depression – was recently signed into law.