It has been 15 years since Plano resident Vanita Halliburton founded the Grant Halliburton Foundation after her son took his life. Vanita’s son Grant had struggled with severe depression and bipolar disorder. Vanita tried to find him the help he needed, but mental health resources were scarce.

But Grant’s tragic death sparked Vanita’s idea to start the foundation in 2006 to help others find mental health resources so no family would have to lose a loved one to suicide.

Now, the foundation has provided mental health education, training and support for over 200,000 students, educators, parents and professionals, according to a press release from the foundation. They also offer educational resources like HereForTexas.com, a searchable online database of Texas mental health providers and resources, and the Here for Texas Mental Health Navigation Line, a helpline that assists callers in finding mental health providers and resources.

However, The State of Mental Health in America study from 2021 shows that mental health and suicide are still widespread problems among children, teens and young adults. The Grant Halliburton Foundation highlighted multiple points from this study, including that Texas is ranked the second-lowest in access to mental health care, suicide is still the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-24 and that Texas loses nearly two people aged 10-24 to suicide a day.

And while mental health and suicide rates among children, teens and young adults are not only still prevalent but increasing, Local Profile asked Amy McCloskey-Halliburton, the foundation’s co-founder, director of special events and daughter of Vanita, a series of questions about the foundation’s past 15 years and what it has seen.

What difficulties has the foundation faced since its creation, and how did you guys overcome those challenges?

“Like so many non-profits, we often have big ideas but lack the means to make them a reality. In the early years of Grant Halliburton Foundation, we had a very small staff, and we frequently had to ‘parking lot’ great ideas that we just didn’t have the capacity or funding to take on. One thing that has been instrumental to our growth is forging partnerships with others in the community and working together to achieve more than we could on our own.

“A few years ago, we’d been dreaming about launching a mental health navigation line to connect callers with mental health information and resources. We had the plan, but we needed funding to get it off the ground. A large funder was very interested and told us that if we could bring more funders in around this project, they would jump in as well. Our president, Kevin Hall, was able to get that support, and we ultimately received the funding we needed from several generous foundations and supporters to launch the Here For Texas Mental Health Navigation Line in 2019.

“We faced an especially disheartening challenge in 2018, when our office was broken into. Computers, electronics, and worst of all, the raffle items for an upcoming Bingo Bash fundraiser, were all stolen. Our supporters and community rallied in huge ways to help us recoup our losses, but also to help restore donations to the event raffle. Held only a few days later, the Bingo Bash was a success, thanks to the hard-working event committee as well as the many raffle donors and businesses that were willing to replace the stolen donations. We have since moved offices and put many more security measures and protocols in place to protect against theft.”

What has the foundation seen over the past 15 years in regard to mental health care?

“In the U.S., Texas ranks 50 out of 51 in overall access to mental health care, according to Mental Health America’s 2021 State of Mental Health in America report. There is still much work to be done to increase access to care for those who are struggling.

“Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen a shift as the stigma around mental health is slowly eroding. People are more willing to talk about mental health and to seek help when needed. There are many wonderful resources in North Texas, but the need is still great — many providers have months-long waiting lists, there are not enough beds at in-patient hospitals, and there is still a need for more mental health education and training for primary care physicians, pediatricians and others.”

Why have suicide rates among teens been increasing over the last few years?

“Teen suicide is an epidemic that is taking the lives of far too many young people at an alarming rate. Increasing levels of stress and depression, often left untreated, can lead to a crisis. Reports show that only one in seven Texas children with depression receive treatment. The vast majority of young people with mental health disorders do not receive treatment, and those that do often don’t receive it for eight to 10 years after the onset of symptoms.

“Teaching children to be resilient from a young age and to build coping skills, coupled with earlier intervention and appropriate treatment, has the power to save lives.”

What has the foundation seen in regard to suicide rates and mental illness throughout the pandemic?

“Over the past year, we’ve experienced dramatic changes that have left many of us — adults, children and teens alike — feeling isolated, fearful, depressed and anxious about the future. Even when the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, it is likely that a mental health pandemic will be the next challenge we face in its wake.

“Last summer, just a few months into the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control conducted a study, asking people about their mental health, and here’s what they found. Compared to before the pandemic, three times as many people said they were experiencing anxiety; four times as many said they were dealing with depression; and twice as many reported having suicidal thoughts. In fact, one in 10 adults reported having seriously considered suicide during the previous 30 days.”

What does the future hold for the foundation?

“The need for mental health education and resources is greater than ever before. Now in its 15th year, Grant Halliburton Foundation is rising to the challenge through our life-changing and life-saving work. We’re in the schools, training people on how to save a life. We’re sharing helpful resources with people who call our Here For Texas Mental Health Navigation Line.

“We’re re-imagining how mental health can become part of the fabric of a school culture with our Thrive Strategy. We’re working with the Redbird Redevelopment Project in Southern Dallas to have a presence with our mental health navigation line supporting the local hospital systems.

“We’re reaching out to collaborate and innovate with others in the community — like Children’s Health, Hope Squad, UTD Center for Brain Health and more — as we all dream of a better future for youth mental health. As we look to the next 15 years, you can be sure that Grant Halliburton Foundation will continue to pursue its mission and work, giving North Texas youth the tools they need to stay well and stay here.”

Bailey Lewis

Bailey Lewis recently graduated from the University of Oklahoma and served as The OU Daily's news editor and enterprise editor. Previously, she was a summer 2020 news intern at the Malheur Enterprise,...