Vanita Halliburton said that when her son battled depression and bipolar disorder, she simply did not know how to help him.
He began cutting himself at age 14. She and her family worked hard for five years to help him get well, she said. At 19, her son sought the assistance of a health professional and later checked into a hospital for 30 days. Two weeks after that, she called her son on what would be their last phone call. After the call, she later learned, her son had jumped from a 10-story building a block away from her home.
“After 30 days, I think he just simply gave up hope. He gave up,” she said. “I did not know. Our family did not know everything we needed to know about depression, about mental illness, about what it looks like on a teenager and how on earth to distinguish it from normal teenage moodiness and acting out.”
Since 2006, Halliburton — co-founder and president of a foundation named after her son — has been a frequent presenter and speaker on suicide prevention and youth mental health.
She spoke Thursday during the Denton County Child Health Summit, which was geared toward informing providers of children’s services such as dentists, doctors, therapists and school nurses with the latest findings of the Communitywide Children’s Health Assessment and Planning Survey (CCHAPS). The goal of the survey is to not only inform providers of critical children’s issues, but also identify and develop strategies to help improve children’s health in a six-county region.
A coalition of health professionals and community leaders identified seven issues critical to children’s overall health: asthma, abuse, access to care, weight, dental, safety and mental health. The first survey provided to families and community leaders was conducted in 2008; the second was conducted last year.
“They [members of the coalition] chose mental health as an area we wanted to address for how they could help children [in Denton County],” said Dr. Lisa Elliot, chairwoman of the Wellness Alliance for Total Children’s Health of Denton County, which community leaders created in 2010 as a result of the initial survey.
The group focused on mental health because it has a lot to do with children’s health issues such as loneliness and obesity, she said.
Also, the group felt it could rally a lot of support for these children, she said.
In 2011, coalition members worked on creating a mission statement and overseeing CCHAPS, conducted more community research, did more health outreach and developed new methods to make the data available to the public.
A website to provide links to children’s health information for Denton is being developed by professors at the University of North Texas College of Visual Arts and Design to increase mental health awareness and create easy access to information in the community.
A total of 2,107 surveys were answered in 2012. In 2008, 1,704 people responded to the survey.
In both surveys, more than three-fourths of those who responded were Caucasian.
“Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans are highly under-represented in the sample,” Larry Tubb, executive director of the Center for Children’s Health, said while presenting the 2012 results.
Among the notable findings:
• A total of 10.7 percent of the respondents who participated in 2012 also participated in 2008.
• The majority of respondents had between 11 to 15 years of living in the community — 50 percent of the population lived in Denton.
• In the four-year period, the children’s population (ages 0-14) in Denton County grew by 26 percent to 174,505, the fastest-growing population compared to Wise, Parker, Tarrant, Hood and Johnson counties.
• The six-county population of children ages 0-14 grew by 13.5 percent over a four-year period to 695,194. Future growth is projected at 9.2 percent by 2017.
• Respondents said finding mental health services in the county was still difficult for them. An increase from 25.6 percent in 2008 to 45.4 percent in 2012.
• Families with children who have mental health issues are 4.8 times more likely to be visited by a Child Protective Services official.
• The survey also revealed that more children — 90 percent or more — are now getting more immunizations, care for short-term illness and have received access to preventive health care.
The summit was emceed by Denton County Health Department Director Bing Burton and included remarks from U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, and Denton County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell. The summit had about 100 attendees.
KARINA RAMÍREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
ON THE WEB
Grant Halliburton Foundation: www.granthalliburton.org
Communitywide Children’s Health Assessment & Planning Survey: http://tinyurl.com/a2spvet