The NAMI benefit is coming to the community center

By By Ben Rayner • 04/05/2022 3:34 PM EST

A January 2020 incident in which a young Guilford man stabbed and injured a woman in Westport made emotional headlines across the state for a short while, but the lasting effects of the crime and mental health issues raised in its wake continue to resonate for the families involved. Now the young man’s family, aided by the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), is offering a night of meditation and reflection to benefit NAMI at the community center on Wednesday, April 27.

Denise Paley knows all too well what happened on that tragic day. His son Ellis was the perpetrator of this act and despite the horrific nature and its outcome, and according to Paley there was much more to this story including the effect it had on friends and loved ones of both families .

According to Paley, her son, who was a senior in high school at the time, was suffering from a psychotic episode due to his well-documented battle with mental health issues. Paley deeply empathizes with the victim and her family, she said, but strongly believes the episode could have been mitigated or even prevented if a few simple steps had been taken by law enforcement.

She said the case highlights the lack of training for law enforcement to deal with people with mental health issues, the difficulty in finding treatment pathways for people with serious mental disorders and ultimately , the need for a more coherent prevention system for people suffering from these health problems. Questions.

“First of all, our family is terribly saddened by what happened to this woman and her family. We never thought something like this was possible before it happened to our family. My son has had a psychotic episode several years ago, and we had gone through the police because we were sure he was going through a health crisis, but the police didn’t,” Paley said. “We didn’t I had no experience in this space and didn’t know where to turn. I was overwhelmed. That’s when I contacted our local affiliate NAMI and ended up getting more involved because our case was so public.

Paley stressed that her concerns should not be taken as condemnation of law enforcement or criticism of their actions when dealing with people in the throes of a mental health crisis. One of NAMI’s goals, according to Paley, is to help train law enforcement on how to handle and defuse these episodes, and to help departments pay these costs for their officers.

Event coordinator Lisa Labadia said the April 27 meeting was extremely important, not only to raise funds, but also to raise awareness of the issue and how its effects impact families, services police and communities. Labadia, who has been friends with Paley for a decade, said after hearing her friend speak one night at a private event, she was inspired to do something in hopes of preventing incidents like the one in which are faced by people in crisis, to occur in the first place.

“I was so touched by Denise’s story and felt we had to do something,” Labadia said. “I had done a meditation with Chrystyne [McGrath, host of the meditation session] before, and I thought that would be a great way to raise awareness. We really need to create awareness. We can all be affected by this. If you break your arm, you’re going to get it fixed, but if there’s something wrong with your mental health, obviously people aren’t as willing to ask for help. There is a stigma and we really want to change that.

Paley is involved in public advocacy for awareness of mental health issues. She now sits on the board of NAMI and helps those who are in the same situation as her and her family.

“I believe the way we’re going to change, as a society, to stop people having seizures is to get to people earlier, and earlier, and further upstream,” Paley said.

To that end, Paley and NAMI are advocating for police training to help identify and defuse mental health confrontations. At the same time, the organization works at both ends of the mental health spectrum, trying to prevent episodes like the one that happened with her son, and also seeking to obtain adequate therapeutic intervention following an incident. .

“That’s the philosophy of our crisis intervention team formation. If our police departments are trained in how to deal with or recognize an emerging mental health issue, then there are no victims and no one ends up going to jail, and the police are also in less danger,” Paley said. “If we can reach our kids when they’re younger and teach them what the mind really is, and take the stigma out of it and how to talk about it, if we know anything about a mental health issue or if they do themselves, our belief, and this is based on data, most mental health issues begin to creep into children before the age of 14. So if we can reach those children when they’re younger, we hope to avoid heartaches and traumas later on.

According to Paley, her son’s situation is an ongoing process of ensuring her son is held accountable, but at the same time desperately seeking mental health intervention in a system that is not designed to provide that care.

“His care was difficult. Prison is not a resource to adequately support a person with a mental illness. I have no problem with any of his health care providers that he worked with,” Paley said. “I have no complaints about the staff there. I think everyone is doing their part with the best of intentions, but it’s like going against the grain because the conditions of detention are deplorable and dehumanizing. It is very difficult to help someone when they are so far away in a situation like this. If you want to make someone better, if you want them to recover, you need comprehensive services that are not just about giving medicine.

“Prison just isn’t designed for that,” she continued. “So people come out and then you have to start from scratch. If you’re not going to look at the root cause of what landed someone in jail, mental illness, trauma, or addiction, why did they end up there to begin with? If we’re not going to look at that, what’s the point? Because people are going to be released worse than when they arrived unless the attrition addresses the root causes.

Paley said a shift in focus is what will ultimately have a positive impact and change.

“We live in a society that deals with mental health when people are in crisis,” Paley said. “We don’t do this with other diseases. If you have high blood pressure, we’re not waiting for you to have a heart attack, we’re treating it now so you don’t have a heart attack,” she said. “We need to treat mental illness the same way. The purpose of these events is to let people know how common this is. It’s part of being human. You’re not alone. Nobody should be ashamed, it’s a disease.

“My son has done something that he will have to deal with for the rest of his life. We don’t want that to define him, and no one should be defined by this disease,” she continued. contact NAMI. We can help you and provide answers.

Pre-registration is required for the event on Wednesday, April 27 which will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Community Center and will be led by Chrystyne McGrath, meditation facilitator and trance medium and healer. To register or for more information, email Lisa Labadia at [email protected] There is a suggested donation fee of $25 for this event to help raise funds for NAMI; 100% of the profits will go to NAMI-Shoreline.

For more information about NAMI-Shoreline and the services it provides, visit or 800 Village Walk, Suite 208 in Guilford or email [email protected]

Jill E. Washington