Mental health in Cherry Creek School District

Friends of Jack Padilla make voices heard

'Jackstrong' group speaks in suicide awareness videos, plans next moves

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On a Sunday afternoon just about a month into this school year, a handful of students sat together in a living room a few blocks from Cherry Creek High School.

But they weren’t cramming for tests: They gathered to continue their push to raise awareness after losing a friend to suicide.

“After Jack passed, a number of his friends called me — and I called a few of them,” said Rick Padilla, father of Creek student Jack Padilla, who died by suicide in February. “They said, 'Mr. Padilla, what can we do?' ”

Under the name “Jackstrong,” the teens meet at Padilla’s home to brainstorm, and in early September, they sat watching the fruition of perhaps their most public effort yet: a set of public service announcement-style videos they contributed to.

“It was kind of scary, but it’s going to be really good,” said Olivia Heichel, a Cherry Creek High sophomore. “It was a lot of sharing our own story. I just shared a lot about losing Jack.”

The rough-cut footage of what would become the PSAs launched Oct. 8 after a collaboration by the Colorado Offices of the Attorney General; Film, Television and Media; and Behavioral Health, along with other local mental health organizations.

The videos feature young people opening up about their struggles with mental health and suicide attempts, sharing information about resources and giving advice to parents.

“I hope that adults or friends can see it and know when their kids are struggling,” Heichel said.

Padilla, the former director of housing in the Denver Office of Economic Development, is now in a role that’s brand new for the City of Denver: suicide prevention administrator. He’s hoping to help reach “teens through teens,” he said.

“We have to say,” Padilla said, “ ‘It’s OK to not be OK.’ ”

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