After his son committed suicide, Doug McSwane, of Tyler, wondered what could be done to help individuals and families dealing with mental health and to bring mental illness to the forefront.

“The first thing I realized is we’ve got to reduce the stigma (of mental illness) and the only way to reduce the stigma is to be open about it and encourage people,” McSwane said.

Consequently, McSwane was instrumental in starting the annual Peace of Mind conference six years ago in Tyler.

Sponsored in recent years by The Samaritan Counseling Center of East Texas, the theme of this year’s Peace of Mind conference is “Let’s End the Stigma.”

Contributing to the stigma of mental illness is the belief that people think they are the only one faced with a mental illness issue, McSwane said. But statistics show 1 in 5 people suffer from mental illness and it impacts many more because families of the mentally ill are affected, too, he said.

Another point McSwane would like to clarify is that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, yet whenever a mass shooting occurs, there often is speculation that the shooter was mentally ill.

Local and national mental health experts will discuss the latest in mental health treatment as well as present personal stories about mental health problems, such as suicide, during the sixth annual Peace of Mind Conference, the largest mental health conference in East Texas.

From 960 to 1,000 people from the region and surrounding areas, including Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, are expected for this year’s conference. It will be Oct. 4 at Green Acres Baptist Church CrossWalk Conference Center, 1607 Troup Highway.

Exhibits will open at 8:30 a.m. and the conference will be from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will include two keynote speakers, lunch, snacks and six afternoon break-out sessions on a variety of mental health topics.

Seating is limited, so advance registration is required at www.sccet.org.

Because of a donor’s generosity, a previous admission charge has been waived, although those wanting to earn continuing education units will be charged $10 at the door. Attendees who have already purchased tickets will have their refunds processed next week, according to information from the organizers. They will be reregistered for the conference automatically and should expect to receive a new ticket in their email.

If they do not receive a ticket, they should to to Eventbrite and select the ticket titled “NOW FREE,” according to information from the organizers.

The conference, which spokesmen say is designed to educate and encourage individuals about mental health issues, usually attracts people from many different backgrounds, including professionals in the mental health field, students, parents, those coping with a mental health challenge, lawyers, doctors and others in the community.

Christopher Taylor, executive director of the Samaritan Counseling Center of East Texas, said the goal of the conference is to rally people and bring them together for a conversation about mental health.

Taylor said, “I want everyone who attends to leave with something tangible they can start using that day, whether for themselves, a family member or a neighbor” to assist with mental health.

Noting that everyone has both physical health and mental health, Tami Anderson, the center’s development director, said the conference will aim to help attendees in their own mental health journey.

Anderson added that people will get to hear about mental health topics they may not know about or understand, as well as the prevalent and common mental health diagnoses. They can start talking about mental illness and breaking the stigma, she said.

Usually 10 to 12 vendors have display booths, including UT Heath East Texas, Cenikor (a new outpatient substance abuse treatment facility in Tyler), the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System.

The conference exposes the area to new information and research in the mental health field as well as provides personal stories of people who cope with mental illness.

The first keynote speaker at 10 a.m. will be Vanita Halliburton, who will present her experience and the journey of her son, who had mental health issues. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and committed suicide at age 19.

She is co-founder and executive chairman of the Grant Halliburton Foundation, a nonprofit that works with schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to promote understanding and education of mental health and how mental illness impacts youth and young adults. She speaks widely about mental health and suicide prevention.

The second keynote speaker at noon will be Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, who will talk about the mind-brain connection, the nature of mental health and the formation of memory.

She was one of the first in her field to study how the brain can change and developed her theory of how people think, build memory and learn. Leaf has helped thousands of students and adults learn how to use their mind to detox and grow their brain and succeed in school and the workplace.

Conference attendees may choose to participate in one of six breakout sessions from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., followed by a break. Another round of breakout sessions will start at 2:45 p.m. and attendees may again pick one of six to participate in.

Halliburton will lead an afternoon breakout session about the cost to the community for silence around the struggles of people who have mental health issues.

Other breakout sessions will include a brief introduction to Hakomi Mindful Somatic Psychotherapy, which focuses on how people sense things and use their body to perceive. It will be led by Rebecca Lincoln, clinical director of Samaritan Counseling Center.

Dr. Jeffery R. Matthews will lead a session on the role of medications in mental health. Amy Pool, of the Grant Halliburton Foundation, will speak on the topic “Shelter From the Storm: Understanding Trauma-Informed Care.”

Luanne Harms will discuss “Mental Health Impact of Alzheimer’s and Related Dementia.” There will also be a session led by Chris Legg on “Rites of Passage: the Philosophy and Psychology of Intentionally Bestowing Navigational Points of Identity Through Families and Communities.”

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