Round Rock junior hoping to help ‘Light up Depression’

Zachary Handshoe talking with classmates (KXAN photo)
Zachary Handshoe talking with classmates (KXAN photo)

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — A Round Rock high school student is bringing suicide to light in front of his classmates Friday night after a personal tragedy fueled his mission to save lives.

Zachary Handshoe can sit in class with a smile on his face knowing he’s making his late friend proud. “I think I went through the first stages of grief, Handshoe said. “I actually denied it.” Denied the reality that his friend had taken his own life.

Two months later, Handshoe is dedicated to talking about depression.

A new study from the University of Illinois-Chicago says one in ten teens suffer from depression. However, most don’t use that word, instead saying they are stressed or down. Researchers say these casual words may lead parents to think their children have typical teen angst, rather than a more serious mental health problem.

“If we don’t address it, then the problem just stays and manifests itself in our society,” Handshoe said. He is hosting ‘Light Up Depression’ in the courtyard of Round Rock High School Friday at 8:30 p.m. with music and speeches which he hopes will start a conversation.

Handshoe’s teacher, Rebecca Cooper, said it’s more important now than ever.

“Even if just one person understands that they do not have to go through depression alone and they do not have to face the dark days by themselves, and they can also understand and see that there is another side of it,” Cooper said.

Cooper was 17 when her sister’s suicide changed her life. She lives with her own depression and is excited to be part of the solution.

“Now, kids are like, ‘No, let’s have a conversation about this and let’s see where we can go – what we can we do, how can we solve it,'” she said.

“I think that when you look at someones death you want them to be remembered, to stand for something even after their passing,” Handshoe said. “When someone takes their life and when someone is suffering from depression and not a lot of people know about it, I think it is really evident we need to start having conversations in school.”

Round Rock Independent School District offers counseling to students in all grades and trains staff to identify the signs of depression and other troubling behavior. The district also offers mental health assistance to its employees through a program that helps pay for counseling.

“Partaking in this event is the first step to making our community and out society a much better place,” Handshoe said about Friday night’s event.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says suicide results in roughly 4,600 deaths a year for young people ages 10 through 24.

In the last two years, Round Rock High School has had three students who committed suicide.

Jorge Rodas looks at the importance of addressing teenage suicide with your children on KXAN News Today

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