It's OK not to be OKAug 01, 2020 ● By Allie Spletter
As Co-founder and Executive Chairman of the Grant Halliburton Foundation, Vanita Halliburton has been there since the very beginning in 2006. Ms. Halliburton explains, “It’s been a joy to watch this organization—born out of the pain of losing a child to suicide and fueled by a desperate desire to save others from such a loss—grow into a multi-faceted force for change in the way we think about and talk about mental illness. Every time I speak, I tell the story of my teenage son, Grant, and his struggle with mental health and his death by suicide at the age of 19—not because it is a unique story, but because it is a story that is becoming all too common. We’ve seen suicide rates among young people rise year after year during the past decade, and it is now the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 24 years old.” Ms. Halliburton is currently most involved in the outreach and education efforts of the foundation as a frequent speaker to parents, educators, professionals, community groups and corporate audiences about mental health and suicide prevention. Since their work began in 2006, the foundation has grown from a staff of one to a team of 15 who bring their passion and experience to the pursuit of their mission, which is to strengthen the network of mental health resources for children, teens and young adults, promote better mental health and prevent suicide.
Of the important work the foundation does, Ms. Halliburton says, “We focus our efforts on three critical areas: education, encouragement and connection. Education is key because the stigma surrounding mental health keeps many from speaking up or seeking helping when they are struggling. The surest way to end the stigma is to break the silence, and that begins with educating people about mental health and suicide prevention. The need for encouragement is often overlooked when we think about mental illness and we recognize parents who are in the fight for a child’s mental health feel utterly alone sometimes. For moms, we have a support group offering a safe, confidential place to talk with others who understand—a place to find information, resources, and encouragement. For men who have a stake in the mental health of a young person, we offer a quarterly speaker series featuring topics related to mental and emotional wellbeing, along with open, honest discussion afterward. There’s power in hearing the words, ‘Me, too.’ And finally, connection is vital given that having a mental illness or living with someone who does is often a lonely journey. It’s not always easy to figure out where to go for professional help. We help people find what they need through our mental health helpline, a number people can call to get information and resources for mental health treatment.”
While society is working towards addressing mental health on a wider scale, there is still a huge stigma around mental illness and people do not feel comfortable talking openly about it or seeking help. Licensed Master Social Worker and the Director of Outreach and Education at the Grant Halliburton Foundation Cami Fields explains, “Mental wellness is crucial to individuals living a happy, healthy and well-balanced life and it’s just as important as physical health and it’s past time we treat it as such.” Of the common misconceptions surrounding mental health and mental illness Ms. Fields says it’s important for others to understand it’s not just something that goes away. “People with mental health conditions often hear things like, ‘Can’t you snap out of it?’, ‘You’re being dramatic,’ ‘Why are you so sensitive?’, ‘You’re making this up,’ ‘Medication will make you crazy’ and other comments that further advance the stigma. Having a mental health condition does not mean you are weak, it isn’t something you can just fix by pulling yourself together, and it isn’t something anyone should have to be ashamed of. Mental health diagnoses are treatable medical conditions,” Ms. Fields clarifies.
As society has seen drastic and dramatic changes to our world in recent months, there has been an uptick in mental health crises and illness. Ms. Fields believes now, more than ever, addressing mental health and illness is paramount. “Many people are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety right now, some that may never have experienced this before. High stress levels are the number one trigger for depression. Anxiety can often start as excessive worrying and racing thoughts, two things this pandemic has caused plenty of. It’s important, especially during these unprecedented times, to talk about mental health so people know they are not alone. When you experience symptoms of depression, your brain can convince you that you are the only one that feels the way you do, and things will never get better. Everyone needs to know it’s okay not to be okay and one of the bravest things you can do is seek help, because there is always hope,” she says. Ms. Halliburton adds, “Without question, the events of recent months have affected virtually everyone. People are experiencing tremendous loss—loss of jobs, loss of routines, loss of homes, loss of relationships, loss of security, and much more. The result is often heightened fear, isolation, anxiety, depression, abuse, and suicide. And people are largely ill-equipped to deal with these issues in healthy ways. The stigma around mental illness is persistent and pervasive, and talking openly about it is the first step to getting help. We have to make it easy for people to say, ‘I’m dealing with depression and today’s a difficult day for me’ or ‘I have so much anxiety’ or ‘I feel so alone and afraid.’ It should be as easy as saying, ‘I have a headache.’ Silence and stigma hold people back from getting help. Now, more than ever, we need to talk—and we need to make it easy for other people to talk to us about how they’re feeling.”
Admittedly, in recent months, the way the foundation reaches others has changed, but it hasn’t changed their mission to educate and reach out. With the advent of COVID-19, the foundation has shifted to a virtual format so they are still able to reach groups with their presentations, while keeping them interactive. Ms. Halliburton explains, “We’ve developed a variety of short videos aimed at providing helpful tips and strategies for dealing with the mental and emotional challenges we’re all experiencing, such as stress, isolation, anxiety, depression and more. We encourage people to check out our website for access to all these mini-videos—there are some for youth and some for adults.” The Foundation’s Here For Texas Mental Health Navigation Line is a resource the foundation offers and is a free helpline offering guidance, information, resources and support for mental health and addiction. She continues, “Our Here For Texas Navigation Line can be very helpful as well as people who are dealing with mounting stress, changes, losses and hardships need someone to talk to. I would encourage anyone who is seeking help with mental health conditions or addiction to give us a call at 972-525-8181. We have licensed mental health professionals on staff to offer information, resources and options for treatment, tailored to your specific needs. During times like these, it can really be helpful to talk to someone. Anyone can call to say, ‘Here's what’s going on, what do I do?’ And we will help them figure it out.” Ms. Halliburton says the foundation is available to help guide people through the process of finding help for someone who is hurting, as the stigma surrounding mental illness makes it harder to ask a friend, a co-worker or even a family member for help finding a mental health professional.
Of the work the foundation has done, Ms. Halliburton is most proud of the growth and impact of their mental health education programs and the mental health helpline they offer to assist callers with finding mental health resources. “We’ve been in the schools and community for more than 10 years, providing education on how to recognize the warning signs of suicide and respond to a person in crisis, as well as how to take care of your own mental and emotional health.
Grant died after a five-year battle with depression and, ultimately, bipolar disorder. When he took his life, all I could think was, ‘We did everything we knew to do to help him. What happened?’ I found my answer to that question in the words ‘everything we knew to do.’ I know so much more now than I knew then about mental illness and suicide. My greatest hope is that through our foundation’s efforts, people will become better educated about mental health. We should all know as much as about mental health as we know about other aspects of our physical health. I want people to know more, so that if they encounter someone in crisis, they will know everything they need to know about connecting that person with support, treatment and life -saving help.”
In addition to resources and education for parents, students, adults, professionals and educators, the foundation has COVID-19 resources that address mental health during the pandemic. There are a variety of ways to help, from lending a helping hand at fundraising events and conferences to being trained to serve as a Here For Texas Navigation Line volunteer.
Anyone interested should contact the foundation for more information by emailing [email protected] or calling at 972-744-9790. For more information, education and resources, visit granthalliburton.org or call 972-744-9790.