Tears When a Patient Takes the Podium

From the annual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Mary Jo Codey (Photo courtesy of Robert Menendez Senatorial Office.)

When physicians invite patients who have become advocates to speak at medical conferences, there’s usually a good reason. I’ve learned a lot from hearing a panel of intersex people speak at a meeting of psychiatrists and psychologists, and I’ve always been moved by hearing people who are living with HIV and AIDS address physicians, whether in small grand rounds or at the International AIDS Conference.

My jaded professional demeanor was blown apart, though, when I heard Mary Jo Codey speak this week. My eyes teared up. The eyes of physicians all around me teared up. When she finished, thousands of ob.gyns. in the auditorium gave her a standing ovation.

Codey, an elementary school teacher who loved children, suffered postpartum depression with both of her two pregnancies. She described the agonizing ordeal she went through before she was diagnosed, the multiple failed antidepressants and electroshock therapy, the judgmental attitudes that made her blame herself, the desire to hurt her baby, the desire to kill herself.

“Nothing that has happened in my life was worse, not even breast cancer and a double mastectomy. They can’t even compare,” she said. Finally, treatment with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor restored her mental health. When her husband later became governor of New Jersey, she launched a statewide campaign to raise awareness about postpartum depression and to improve education and resources on the subject.

The president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dr. Gerald F. Joseph Jr., has made postpartum and perinatal depression part of a “presidential initiative” that included release last fall of a joint report with the American Psychiatric Association on Management of Depression During Pregnancy. In early 2010, the College also released a committee report on screening for depression during and after pregnancy.

By focusing the entire opening plenary session of the annual meeting on this topic, he sent a message about the importance of getting ob.gyns. to wrap their minds around the issue of postpartum depression. And by having Mrs. Codey speak, he guaranteed that they wrapped their hearts around it, too.

—Sherry Boschert
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Filed under Family Medicine, IMNG, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Psychiatry, Uncategorized

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