STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — The Gray family was always the family on the go, raising their three boys Ricky, Patrick and Brycen. Whatever the older boys did, Brycen was sure to follow.
"The minute Patrick decided to go to St Ed's, Brycen was all in," remembers mom Tara Gray.
But Brycen never lived under his brother’s shadow, quickly becoming known as number 6 on the football team and number five on the lacrosse team.
"He had friends [in] Painesville, Mentor, Rocky River, Avon, Westlake, West Park Cleveland, Strongsville, Brunswick, I mean everywhere," Tara says.
That’s why the grief of losing him is so hard to understand.
"I’ve often said we tend to sympathize with people, but it doesn’t scratch the surface; completely blindsided," Tara says with tears in her eyes.
Brycen took his own life last April, leaving his parents stunned.
"That’s the first death by suicide of any current student in St. Ed's history, so in 75 years," Brycen's principal KC McKenna told 3News.
Brycen was known for encouraging others, something his family and friends say they know is carrying them through their grief today.
The Gray family is now working with St. Ed's to introduce mental health training for the staff, students and their families. St. Ed's will be the only private school to participate in this year’s Cuyahoga County’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey to better understand our kids' emotions and thoughts.
The survey was developed by the CDC and had monitored the major causes of morbidity and mortality for adolescents since 1991. The survey is conducted every two years among students in grades 9-12 across the country.
"Our entire faculty and staff went through mental health first aid training," McKenna says. "And youth mental health first aid training is designed to do a lot of that, too. To help those who are not mental health professionals, to recognize the signs and symptoms of someone who is in a mental health crisis, and secondly, essentially train them on how to react and how to provide support."
The school recently held a session called Talking to Your Son About Mental Health, featuring Julian Dooley, Ph.D, whose practice is centered on youth mental health. The hour-long conversation focused on mental health signs and symptoms, suicide warning signs, managing a crisis situation and help-seeking.
It outlined five important ways to connect with your child:
- Asking: Asking questions in a gentle way about your kid's social life, social media habits and if you notice a change in mood or behavior.
- Listening: When listening, be aware of your body language and model good-listening behavior without judgement or assumption.
- Modeling: Share your own emotions openly and be OK with being venerable. Also promote healthy eating, sleeping and social habits.
- Supporting: Advocate for your children, but still hold them accountable. Remember resilience and the importance of positive and healthy close relationships with an adult.
- Informing: Make sure you know where kids are getting information from that could scare them. Practice de-escalation strategies. Know available help and support services.
"The lacrosse teams all the way from Cincinnati Elder, I believe, they were putting number 5 [on their uniforms], to colleges," says dad, Shawn.
Principal McKenna says he thinks the legacy of this senior class will be honoring Brycen through the ways they support one another and generations to come.
If you are contemplating suicide, there is help. For 24/7 assistance, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number at (800) 273-8255, or text text HOME TO 741-741. That is a national crisis text line you can use to get an answer right away.