- Associated Press - Saturday, October 18, 2014

EAST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - After her son committed suicide earlier this year, Judy Murray has made it her goal to change the public perspective on mental illness, starting with a forum this month to address the stigma surrounding the issue.

Feeling compelled to share her story and shed light on the issue, Murray recruited a group of experts in the field of mental health to participate in a panel on Oct. 23 at East Haven High School.

“The event is for mental health awareness reform and suicide prevention,” she said. “I basically don’t want to see families suffer the way we did and I want to see things changed.”

Her son, Daniel Kelson, 23, died at the Connecticut Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital in May from third-degree burns after his car struck a pole located next to a gas pump at the Hess gas station on Frontage Road. Witnesses said the inside of Kelson’s car already was aflame as he drove down the street. At the time, Murray said her son had a propane tank in his car, and she believed he just lit the gas and thought the propane would just blow up. She said he didn’t want to survive.

In the wake of her son’s death, Murray founded an organization called “Don’t Accept No (D.A.N.).” The organization’s mission is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental conditions and achieving “victory” over mental illnesses and addictions through advocacy, education, research and service, according to its website.

Murray said she started the organization to help people realize they should not have to “accept no” when it comes to their loved one’s mental healthcare.

“I would like people to speak up when you know something is not right and advocate for yourself and for others who can’t,” she said. “I think that’s the most important thing.”

Murray said a couple of weeks prior to her son’s death, he was released from a nine-day stay at a mental health facility. In her opinion, he was released too early and his suicide could have been prevented.

“He needed help so bad,” she said. “The doctor told me all of the patients would go to him (her son) when they were upset. He was taking care of the patients there and who was taking care of him?”

Murrary said she was then told the hospital could no longer keep him. The name “Don’t Accept No” is a campaign directed at parents to help prevent forced release and allow parents to advocate on behalf of their children. She said the forum for her means bridging the misconceptions when it comes to mental disorders.

“It means a lot to me,” she said. “In regards to the discrimination and the stigma around mental illness, people are ashamed and therefore do not seek help, which was (Dan’s) problem.”

State Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, will open the forum and then hand off the program to the four panelists, Murray said. Among the speakers is Andrea Duarte, a social worker with the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and Victoria Veltri with the Office of Healthcare Advocate. The rest of the panel is comprised of physicians in the field, Dr. Theodore Zanker and Valerie Keating. The program will be moderated by East Haven Academy Principal Marianne Johnson.

Before the forum starts, Murray said she plans to speak on the topic, sharing Daniel’s story. She said she hopes that all those who attend find inspiration to protest the injustices in healthcare.

“I hope that it will make people band together and speak out for justice and what’s right,” she said.” There’s a lot of compassion out there. I feel it and people have to speak up. There’s gotta be more love.”

Murray said she’s been planning the event for a month, passing out fliers and posting advertisements. Since she works in the school district, she has sent out invitations to special education schools in the area and is reaching out to the district through email.

She said she isn’t sure how many people will come but hopes the panelists are able to answer questions and increase the public’s understanding of the problem.

Since her son died, Murray’s goal of mental health reform has taken off in a way she said she didn’t imagine. She has been shown support from the town, her neighbors and even strangers. She said though sometimes people ignored her when she’s passing out fliers for the event in front of stores, she doesn’t take offense.

“As soon as I make it personal, I know they stop,” she said. “It’s not that they don’t care about the issue, people just don’t have time to stop. The support is there when people take the time to listen.”


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