Representatives from more than 20 mental health and partner organizations came together Thursday to help bring light to the subject of mental illness and more during the Community Behavioral Health Conference. The event, now in its third year, featured experts on different subjects related to mental health speaking on topics ranging from addiction to the role of faith in recovery.


The event saw more than 500 people from across North Texas and Southern Oklahoma attend, more than doubling the attendance of its first year.


“If the goal is to get a conversation on mental health started, and we are standing room only, then I think that’s a good sign,” Ginger Nye, who served as master of ceremonies for the event, said.


Gail Utter, representing the Texoma Behavioral Health Leadership Team, said about three out of four people know someone who has a mental illness of some kind and one in four has some form of mental illness themselves. However, that could come in many forms, including depression, substance abuse, behavioral issues and autism.


“Depression is more wide spread than heart disease worldwide and yet no one would ever think that,” Utter said. “The more we talk about mental health, the more we have that conversation, the better informed we are and the more effective we are at finding a solution.


In addition to mental health professionals, Utter said she spoke with several people Thursday that planned to learn what services were available and seek help. Utter said several of those people wanted assistance, but were too afraid to admit that they were in need.


“It (the conference) is about providing information, education and awareness about mental health so that people can realize that it’s OK to have a mental health challenge,” Utter said. “It is OK to have a child, a family member, a friend that has a mental health challenge.”


Among the speakers during Thursday’s conference was Vanita Halliburton, who spoke about youth depression and the impact of suicide. Halliburton serves as the executive chairman for the Grant Halliburton Foundation, which is named after her son.


“I am here today because I’ve been the parent of two adorable, wonderful children — a girl named Amy and a boy named Grant,” Halliburton said. “Both were gifted and talented, outgoing, people-loving and incredible human beings who were not only brother and sister but also best friends.”


When Grant was 14 years old, he was diagnosed with depression, which he continued to battle throughout his high school years. While seeking treatment, he was later diagnosed with bipolar psychosis.


“One day, just two weeks out of the hospital, the voices in his head obliterated all rational thought and it seemed to him that there was only one way to end the terrible emotional turmoil,” Halliburton said.


She said at the age of 19, her son was “drawn to the edge of despair” and jumped from a 10-story building a block from their home.


“I will never know what caused my son to give up hope so utterly that he thought the only way to end his pain was to end his life,” Halliburton said. “But I do know this — there is hope and there is help for every young person, and that is what we are here to talk about today.”


In addition to Halliburton’s talk, the event also included discussions on the impact of child abuse on mental health, and a panel on mental health and faith, among other topics. The keynote speaker for this year’s conference was author Candy Finnigan, who appeared on the A&E television series “Intervention.”


Many organizations also set up tables and booths outside the conference space to hand out information on what services each group has to offer.


Among the booths was a display of art by Jaime Brock of the Wonderland Art Gallery. The nearly dozen pieces depicted an artist’s impression of different types of mental illnesses ranging from depression to anxiety.


Brock said some of the pieces were inspired by her own battles with anxiety and bipolar disorder. By putting her feelings down on the canvas, she said she was able to see the emotions out in the open.


“You can look back and see your moods and how they have progressed,” she said.