BY BECKY OSTERWALD
#JackStrong – a movement at Cherry Creek High School (CCHS) April 5 to shine a light on problems associated with bullying and teen suicide after freshman, Jack Padilla,
took his own life Feb. 14. According to his big brother John, Jack had been allegedly bullied by other students to the point he took his own life.
The student resource officer tried to keep the students moving down Union Avenue, but instead the students held the protest across the street from the school. Photos by Becky Osterwald
A second Cherry Creek student committed suicide this semester, as did two students at Arapahoe High School last semester and one each at St. Mary’s and Valor in the previous two weeks.
The CCHS students organized the walkout to demand the culture at CCHS, and society as a whole, to stop treating mental illness as something to be ashamed of. One student said that those with depression, should not have to be ashamed “that you fought and won the battle with mental illness.”
Although students gathered in the quad, they quickly walked across Union Avenue to where CCHS had asked the media to stay while the protest took place, shutting down the street in front of the school. Several students spoke about how the culture in the school needs to change and that it wasn’t until recently that teen suicide and depression was even mentioned within the school walls.
After the protest, Jack’s big brother, John spoke to media saying, “We are here today asking for [money] to help our children that are in crisis and they need help. They might not have the power to speak out about the changes they want, that’s our job as adults. … This is bigger than politics, it’s bigger than anything else.” He went on to explain some of the bullying that Jack experienced included threatening him with a gun and telling the freshman to kill himself.
Students left the Cherry Creek High School quad to have the protest on the north side of Union Avenue. Jack’s brother John, holds a picture of Jack, who’s suicide helped fuel the demonstration.
The #JackStrong Foundation has a goal at this point – end teen suicide. He also wants to see policy changes that will allow “kids to seek out therapists and put therapist and social workers in schools on a full-time basis. I think we can do better as a society to raise money for [this]. If it involves raising taxes, I don’t care,” John said.
A bill currently under consideration in the Colorado Legislature — Youth Mental Health Education and Suicide Prevention — would allow minors as young as 12 to obtain mental health treatment once without parental permission.
“It’s hard to lose someone to suicide. It’s the most painful way [to lose someone]. Whether it’s a child [or] a brother. … Jack is my only brother, so I never expected to be my parents only child,” John said who is taking a semester off from college.
He echoed what some of the students said during the protest that there is a lot of pressure on teenagers to work hard, get good grades and be great at extra-curricular activities. “I think the most important thing to teach our kids is how to love,” he said. “… We can’t lose any more Jacks and that starts with giving justice for Jack and justice for our children. … I think that bullying should be a crime and it’s not right now. There are no consequences [for bullying] and there needs to be.”
During the rally, John Padilla said that almost 5,000 teens die from suicide each year. There are 500,000 diagnosed with clinical depression and are still too scared to reach out for help from adults. He urged the Creek students to be a friend and be available to listen to another student if they reach out for help.
The crowd standing on the street during the protest to shine light on teen suicide and bullying.
One student said that everyone “is going through something, everybody has something going on it their life that really hurts deep down. … [You can help] just by smiling, because a smile can make someone’s day a whole lot brighter … Let’s fight and show them that we are not going to take this anymore. Show them that we believe in being kind to each other and to ourselves,” he said.
Another student said it’s not social media that is the problem, its how students are using social media to express themselves. “Stop talking behind peoples backs, stop spreading rumors and unnecessary things that don’t need to be said or heard. … Showing someone they are important and cared about will be a step in the right direction for all of us.”
Another student who had been speaking on mental illness said that there is a lot of stigma about depression. It’s not true to think of yourself as broken. “You can go to resources that can help you. It’s not bad to have a mental illness, but it should not be hidden. It is bad in the way it takes lives; it is bad that one in five kids, ages 13-48 will experience a severe bought of mental illness in their lifetime; it is bad that people don’t talk about it, and it [is bad] because it takes their lives. There isn’t enough awareness [about mental illness] and this [protest] is really important because we are spreading awareness, so it doesn’t happen again.”
Jack’s brother, John Padilla, talked with media after the student protest.
On the need to change the culture, one student said it doesn’t matter what your GPA or test score is or how many AP courses a student is taking. Nor does it matter how many clubs a student is in. What does matter is “treating each other as individuals and they are valued no matter what they do or who they are, and we need to change that at CCHS.”
Admitting she had considered suicide, one student said she realized she had a future and “so does every student in the school. Every person struggling with depression can realize they have a future. They need to find help, find support, find people you love. We will hold your hand and help you through it because you have a beautiful future,” she told any student who is struggling.
According to the Denver Post “Cherry Creek School District spokeswoman Abbe Smith said in a statement the school has turned over “all information that we are aware of” to Greenwood Village police. ‘We do not believe we have all of the information that has been provided to police,’ she said. ‘We await the outcome of their investigation.’”
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