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Johnson County teen struggled with depression. So he planned a music festival

Will Gurley was already struggling with depression when he watched Logic perform at this year’s Grammy Awards.

On national TV, the American rap star sang “1-800-273-8255,” about a suicidal person finding hope. The title is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number.

“It really struck a nerve,” said Will, 15, who lives in Leawood. “How somebody with such a huge influence is talking about things that need to be talked about, and disregarding the taboo nature of mental heath.”

Will said he felt called to host something similar on a local level. And because he is a musician, he knew he wanted to make an impact through music.

This weekend, he will perform and speak at the You Matter Music Festival. He worked with Blue Valley Schools to get the family-friendly event off the ground to spread awareness about mental health and suicide prevention — particularly for teens.

The free event is planned for 7:30 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at Blue Valley High School’s football stadium. The festival will feature local bands, booths from mental health providers and testimonials from those who have struggled with mental health issues.

Though he is a Kansas City Christian School student, he used to attend Blue Valley schools. He said he sent the district a proposal earlier this year about what he wanted to do, and school officials quickly offered their support.

Will said he hopes the event encourages his peers to talk to one another about depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety or other struggles.

“It’s not that much different than a physical illness,” he said. “If somebody breaks their bone you know all about it, but it feels like you can’t talk about mental health.”

Will said he was 14 when he first told his parents, Susie and Dan, that he was depressed.

Susie Gurley said she was “relieved and happy” that he felt comfortable speaking with them.

“That’s the biggest thing we hope others get out of this — don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she said. “Even if just one person goes to one of the tables and says ‘I’m really struggling here,’ we’ll have accomplished our mission.”

Will said he quickly found support through his church community and counselors and doctors once he turned to his parents for help.

But Will, who sings and plays bass guitar, guitar and piano, found the most solace in music. He wrote songs and participated this summer in Dream Nights Talent Search at the Ozarks Amphitheater.

Though he is in the band None for All, he will perform and speak solo at the You Matter event.

Other local music groups are expected to join him, including 229, Joyride, Once in a Blue Moon, Kate Cosentino, Tommy Abrey and Ryan Jacobs.

And mental health providers, including Signature Behavioral Health, Johnson County Mental Health, Keep the Spark Alive Foundation and re:Vive, among others, will help educate attendees about what they provide.

“Music has always been a great tool to help me work through things,” Will said. “I just hope I can help spread that message.”

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