LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Tara and Shawn Gray of Strongsville have committed their lives to promoting mental health awareness after their son Brycen Gray, a 17-year-old St. Edward High School student, took his life in April 2021 while battling COVID-19.
The couple is now working with St. Edward in Lakewood to distribute Brycen Gray memorial key chains to students, which have Brycen’s motto, “You’ve got a friend in me,” on one side and a QR code on the other, which when scanned will take a students phone directly to counseling support phone numbers.
The couple believes their son may have been the victim of COVID-related physiological and neurological effects on the brain, and they believe further study into the rare disorder is desperately needed.
Tara Gray told News 5 her son showed no signs he was dealing with psychological distress.
“Brycen didn’t display any symptoms that we were aware of, and I think that’s the biggest question for all of us survivors is why, that’s the biggest question,” Gray said. “I mean, he was loved, he comes from a close family and good community, he loved his St. Edward brothers, so if it could happen to him, I think it could happen to anybody.”
Tara Gray said the key chain is one way to make sure students have quicker access to the mental health support they may need.
CLICK HERE to visit the counseling resources website the QR code links to.
“My dad came up with the idea to make the key chains with our motto, and my nephew said to do the QR code,” Gray said. “It’s just a quick access, they can carry them on their book bags, key rings, the lanyards, easy access, and hopefully it will save somebody.”
St. Edward High School President KC McKenna told News 5 his staff is fully aware that post-pandemic stress on students is still an issue. Mckenna showed News 5 how the school has responded with signs of mental health support posted throughout the school, with students creating their own “you’ve got a friend” support platform.
“A young person will never go through so much change as they go through from the ages of 14 to 18, and those charges are challenging,” McKenna said. “We need to give them these reminders that it’s okay to talk about mental health and that we shouldn’t stigmatize it any longer.”
McKenna is hoping other local schools and school districts will adopt the QR code idea to give students faster access to counseling help. McKenna also made it clear “role models” are also an important component in promoting mental health awareness among students.
“We talk about mental health all the time at St. Ed’s because we don’t want to kind of put that in the corner; we want it to be at the forefront of people’s minds,” McKenna said. “When Kevin Love wrote that essay about the struggles that he had with mental health, especially in an all-boys school, where we have a lot of kids who look up to professional athletes, that was something that really opened up the conversation.”
Contact the Brycen Gray Memorial Foundation for more information on the Brycen Gray key chain or how to donate.
Those seeking immediate mental health support should contact the 24-hour Suicide Prevention, Mental Health/Addiction Crisis, Information and Referral Hotline operated by Frontline Service by dialing 988 or (216) 623-6888.
Meanwhile, Shawn Gray is hoping House Bill 5772 will get back up to bat in Washington D.C., which called for research grant funding to study the neurological and psychological impact of COVID-19 on the brain.
“Reach out to family and friends, whoever you can; don’t try to do it alone,” Gray said. “We created the key chain because that’s what he was about; it was about helping others.”
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