Colorado teen’s suicide spurs mental health legislation

The suicide of a Colorado 15-year-old last year has prompted three key pieces of legislation all aimed at getting mental health resources for residents battling depression and anxiety.

Jack Padilla killed himself in February 2019 after being bullied by five students at Cherry Creek High School in suburban Denver. Padilla’s family decided to tell the public about the death of their popular son and to lobby for more help for teens facing the same problems that claimed Jack.

 

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“We need to tell our story about Jack, we need to help others like him,” Rick Padilla, Jack’s father,  said Friday just before Colorado Gov. Jared Polis declared Feb. 14 “Jack Padilla Day” in Colorado.

The publicity surrounding Jack’s death helped get enough votes to help pass HB1120 last year, said the bill’s primary sponsor Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet. The measure allows kids as young as 12 to seek and obtain psychotherapy services without the consent of the minor’s parents or guardian.

Prior to the bill’s passage, only minors 15 or older could see help from a therapist without a parent’s consent.

Michaelson Jenet had tried to get a similar measure passed in two prior legislative sessions. She argued minors were facing unprecedented pressures and having access to mental health therapy at that age could prevent a suicide.

But Republican legislators successfully opposed the bill, saying it took away parental authority.

“It took three years and Jack’s story to convince people it was time we began talking about what’s troubling so many of our kids,” Michaelson Jenet said.

Michaelson Jenet is sponsoring another bill this year, HB 1086, that says mental health wellness exams must be part of preventive health care services covered by health insurance prevention plans.

The coverage must:

  • Be comparable to the coverage of a physical examination;
  • Comply with the requirements of federal mental health parity laws, and
  • Not require any deductibles, co-payments, or coinsurance for the mental health wellness examination.

The measure recently passed the House Appropriations Committee.

Another measure, HB 1113, requires Colorado’s Human Services Department to create and maintain a website that provides internet links to information and resources residents can access for behavioral health care services. The bill is co-sponsored by representatives Brianna Titone, a Democrat, and Lois Landgraf, a Republicans.