BOISE, Idaho — New this school year, students in Oregon will be allowed to stay home from school for excused "Mental Health Days". It aims to encourage students to open up about struggles they're facing, without the additional stress of missing classwork and sacrificing their grades.
"Kids won't have to feel like they're hiding anything anymore," Boise High graduate Olivia Gregg said. "They won't have to feel like they have to pretend and say, 'Oh, I'm staying home from school because I have a cold or I have the flu,' you know, they can be honest to their teachers and parents about what's going on and hopefully that can help them get help sooner."
Gregg graduated from Boise High last spring, but spent her senior year advocating for suicide awareness on campus with a campaign called "Stay Brave". She says "Stay Brave" is a unifying phrase relatable for people who've lost a loved one to suicide, people dealing with mental health struggles themselves, and the Boise High Brave community as a whole.
The idea for the campaign came the summer before senior year, after Gregg lost a friend to suicide.
"I knew that I wanted to do something to help in remembrance of her and to help other people who felt like I felt when they lost someone, or to help people that were struggling like her," Gregg said. "I always said from the beginning of starting this, that I would be an open door to students and be a friend to talk to if they didn't have any, and I really saw that happen."
This year, Oregon joins Utah in passing legislation allowing students excused absences for mental health days -- up to five days in a three-month time period -- something Gregg sees as a smart move, hoping it will lead to conversations with parents and school staff sooner rather than later.
"In my graduating class we lost a student to suicide, and in my sister's graduating class, two years before me, we also lost somebody to suicide," Gregg said.
Many school districts, including the Boise School District, don't currently have a policy specifically related to mental health days, but allow parents to excuse their child's absence at their own discretion.
And for any students struggling to make it through the school day, Gregg says don't be so quick to pass up a talk with a counselor on campus.
"I think a lot of kids overlook school counselors as just, 'They're there to help you with your schedule and time management,' but really they are there to help with any problems that you may have, and I've talked to my counselors many times and they've expressed to me they wish more students would come to them for help," Gregg said.
All the money they've raised through T-shirt and sticker sales, along with additional donations, all benefit the local Speedy Foundation. And although Olivia will be attending college in Salt Lake City, she's found a current Boise High student to take over the campaign, hoping to pass it down each year as a new school tradition.
If you or someone you know is struggling with loneliness, anxiety or thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website.