News Article Details

Scholarship to raise awareness of mental illness

Austin American-Statesman - 3/21/2019

March 21-- Mar. 21--Erik Hanson will be remembered by the Lake Travis community as a dedicated athlete, a kind friend and funny.

His step-dad Tim Hanson said Erik would typically think of other people before himself and had a dry sense of humor. He said he was always poking at his mom and even once tricked Lake Travis High School Principal Gordon Butler into doing a push up contest.

"People were attracted to him and he always seemed to make people feel happy around him," he said.

Hanson died in August 2018 and the community has rallied together to educate students, parents, teachers and community members about the misconceptions of anxiety and mental health.

A group of parents, educators and friends of Hanson have formed a scholarship in Hanson's name to help open the dialogue in schools and in the community that mental health and anxiety should not be treated any differently than other diseases.

"It's just a matter of continuing a conversation," said Kathleen Hassenfratz, a scholarship board member and local counselor. "The way you would teach people to drive a car. You wouldn't hand them the keys and say 'go.' We really want to hand people the tools to continue removing the stigma, and know how to ask questions and know what the signs (of mental health illnesses) are."

The Lake Travis school district conducted a youth risk behavior survey during the 2017-18 school year sampling students in seventh through 12th grade. Results, presented during a January 2018 school board meeting, showed Lake Travis students tested higher than the national average for certain risky behaviors, including suicide.

RELATED: Survey: Students stressed, think their peers drink

Local therapist Sarah Cortez has said that every day, 3,000 minors attempt suicide in the country and four out of five of them showed clear warning signs. Out of those 3,000, she said, only 20 percent sought mental health care.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages and 10 and 24, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ava Floyd, a former student at Lake Travis, a friend of Hanson's and now a freshman at the University of Texas, said there can be a lot of pressure at school. Pressure to be involved in extracurricular activities, to be in the top 10 percent of the class and to volunteer, because all of these qualities look good on college applications.

"With the school being so big, its competitive to be in that top 10 percent, which is supposed to guarantee auto admission to college," Floyd said. "And now UT is cutting that to only admitting the top 6 percent. The difference in your class ranking can literally be one point. There's just a lot of pressure all around."

The group behind the Erik Kyle Hanson scholarship fund said the project is more than just about rewarding money to a deserving student, but also about starting a "movement" to Engage and Heal, an acronym of Hanson's name, and reminding people to never take for granted the opportunity to say one thing that may change a person's life in that very moment

"Take a moment to engage someone in conversation, listen to what someone is saying, put down your phone, ask some questions and show some interest," said Amelia Floyd, advisory committee chair. "If you feel like someone you know is in trouble and you feel like they are changing or have dark thoughts speak up, help them heal, you may just save a life."

RELATED: Many working to shed stigma of mental illness

Hanson was a 2017 graduate of Lake Travis High School. He was a varsity swimmer, football player and an Eagle Scout. He attended Texas A&M in 2017-2018 and was a member of the Corps of Cadets, a member of Company E-1 Jocks, Army 2nd Brigade. He was selected as a member of the corps marksmanship team and received the best drilled freshman award. He was also active at Austin Ridge Bible Church and enjoyed acting.

Floyd said that through their efforts, they hope students realize they aren't alone. Everyone can be affected by mental health whether they are an athlete, cheerleader, band member or theater kid.

"We have to stop sweeping it under the rug," Floyd said. "This is real. It's not just teenagers, it involves adult and kids. Anxiety and depression lead to bigger things. If you can start the conversation you're already winning half the battle."

The group is hosting a minigolf event at Wild Kitchen & Bar, 15506 W. Texas 71, on March 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and March 31 from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets are $40 per team through March 27 and $50 per team after. A food truck will be onsite. A few prizes will also be given out.

Tickets can be purchased at eventbrite.com. Floyd said for those who cannot attend and want to donate, a donation option is available on the event page. Donations will be accepted through May 1. Money raised will go directly to the scholarship.

Based on Hanson's parents wishes, the scholarship will go to a graduating football player who does not have an athletic scholarship and has a financial need. The scholarship will be awarded in May.

"Our goal is to delicately educate the community with every fundraiser and opportunity we have with students," Hassenfratz said. "We'll have some educational materials available for participants. As we start to introduce this to schools, I'm hoping we can go to athletes and do presentation to kids on how to balance. We want them to be happy, open to learning and connecting, and be able to ask for help."

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(c)2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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