DENVER (CBS4) – In the wake of this week’s school shooting in Highlands Ranch, calls are growing for more mental health care for children. Some of that help is already underway after an historic year for mental health legislation at the state Capitol.
State lawmakers passed more than a dozen bills and allocated nearly $30 million to improve mental health care in Colorado this session, especially when it comes to kids.
A grieving father is among those who begged lawmakers for help.
“We thought we were dealing with whatever issues he had,” said Rick Padilla. He says his son struggled for years with depression, but it was relentless bullying that drove him to suicide.
In February, Jack Padilla took his life. He was a freshman at Cherry Creek High School.
“He walked in the room, his smile lit up the room,” his dad said. The 15-year-old’s smile so bright, it masked his suffering. Two weeks after the teen’s death, his dad testified for a bill giving kids as young as 12-years-old access to confidential counseling at school.
“I believe that when kids are in crisis, the crisis can be immediate. It can be a ten minute window, it can be a five minute window when you’re in serious crisis. Would that have made a difference in Jack’s life? I am not sure. But I know, to give a child a piece of paper, go home and get your parents’ permission and then come back and have an opportunity to speak to a school psychologist or counselor, the crisis could be passed or could be catastrophic, the consequences of that.”
Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet carried the bill along with legislation that puts social workers in elementary schools and more money toward mental health education for students. For years, she’s lead the fight at the capitol to improve kids access to mental health care, and met resistance.
“I firmly believe you stop suicide two miles down the road, before you ever get to suicide. Unfortunately, and especially in Colorado, we are seeing our suicide rate age going younger and younger and younger. We have new stories of 9 year olds, we have new stories of 10 year olds, that is elementary school. Every single time there is a shooting, or a threat of a shooting, or a Safe-2-Tell report, the first thing people say is, ‘It’s not the guns. We need more mental health.’ Here’s mental health.”
Gov. Jared Polis joined Michaelson Jenet in her fight this year.
“We’re reacting to a situation where Colorado has among the highest suicide rates in the country, and it’s not every case that ends up in a suicide, it also ends up with depression, people who drop out of school, adults who are not able to work… it ties into preventing some of those more costly and difficult problems from happening later on.”
Rick Padilla says he will continue to push for more mental health legislation next year.
“This is not only a school issue, it’s a community issue. We have to get rid of the stigma attached to mental health. I don’t think there is one family, since this has happened, that we have heard from that hasn’t been touched somehow. This is what I need to do for my son and I will for other kids.”
Lawmakers also passed a bill this session that creates a state office focused on child behavioral health.