Teen Suicide PSAs released by coalition of Colorado state offices, parents, teens

By: Ellis Arnold

October 14, 2019

Originally appeared in the Highlands Ranch Herald.

Youths speak out about mental health following stories of south metro suicides.

When the impact of a suicide started to take a toll on Jim Janicek’s kids, he knew he had to do something.

“My kids go to Arapahoe High School,” Janicek told a crowd at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center near downtown Denver.

When Arapahoe student Nick Bales died by suicide last fall, it sent Janicek’s kids into a spiral, he said. That was just a few days before another Arapahoe student took her life.

“My kids literally came home saying, `I’m so scared because I don’t know who’s going to be next,’ ” Janicek said.

Janicek, the president of a TV production and marketing company, approached the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media, later talking to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Eventually, he met Rick Padilla, the father of Jack Padilla, a freshman at Cherry Creek High School who died by suicide in February. Friends of Jack Padilla, who assembled into a group called “Jackstrong” to raise awareness about suicide, got involved in Janicek’s push, too.

It all led up to an Oct. 8 ceremony at the judicial center, where state officials, teens and mental health leaders launched public service announcement-style videos with a concerted message:

“You’re not alone.”

The videos feature young people opening up about their own struggles with mental health and suicide attempts, sharing information about resources and giving advice to parents on how to help kids who may be having suicidal thoughts.

“I truly believe we can live in a world without suicide,” said Zoe Royer, one of five young people who spoke at the event. “The first step is right here. Talking, listening, building meaningful relationships.”

State Attorney General Phil Weiser mentioned Colorado’s high youth suicide rate compared to other states and said one of the core challenges to getting people help is stigma surrounding talking about mental health, which the initiative wants to change.

“If we are all half as brave as you are, I think we’re going to be in good shape,” Weiser told the five young speakers.

The videos — on Instagram at teens2teensco and YouTube at Teens2Teens — have a collective thousands of views, with the Instagram account amassing more than 300 followers as of Oct. 11.

Leaders from Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners, Mental Health Colorado and the state Office of Behavioral Health also spoke, along with Donald Zuckermanfilm commissioner with the Office of Film, Television and Media.

Rick Padilla is one of many parents who lost children — four in total — to suicide in the Cherry Creek School District this year, and other south metro Denver students died by suicide as well in that time.

“I think there’s really three goals,” Padilla said of the PSA effort. “One, elevate the conversation and awareness around the issue. The second goal is to reach teens through teens.” Third, the initiative may run the messages on TV, Padilla added.

Padilla, who lives near Cherry Creek High School, is the former director of housing in the Denver Office of Economic Development.

He’s now in a role that’s brand new for the City of Denver: suicide prevention administrator. The city is preparing to analyze and improve its efforts to support mental health, and as part of that, Padilla started a “community listening sessions” program. The first took place at Park Hill Branch Library Sept. 30, with three speakers and feedback from the crowd.

Padilla’s hoping for another session by the end of the year, and one with teen speakers, like the teens and young adults at the PSA launch.

Alexis McCowan, a student at the University of Northern Colorado, told the Oct. 8 crowd that her last suicide attempt was in 2017.

“And it will be my last, and it has been my last,” McCowan said. “I would love to use this messaging to reach other teens so that they’ll also be able to say that.”

“There is always,” McCowan said, “a future after the pain.”