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Officer suicide is a serious problem, but prevention efforts are making a difference

Numbers are down after 228 died by suicide in 2019
Focusing on mental health is helping to curb officer suicides
Posted at 11:31 AM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-17 20:40:30-04

COLORADO — September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Last year, a record number of law enforcement officers died by suicide. News5 learned progress is being made in the wake of those tragedies as law enforcement agencies focus on helping first responders with their mental health.

For decades, officer suicides weren't tracked in this country or even talked about outside of law enforcement circles. Last year, at least 228 law enforcement officers took their own lives in the U.S. At least 12 of those were in Colorado.

In 2020, there has been a positive shift as those numbers have come down.

Most recent numbers tracked by Blue H.E.L.P.

Law enforcement leaders and officers are finding the courage to talk about mental health.

"We are human beings that experience the worst of the worst and our mind and body weren't designed to experience that much, over and over and over again," said Dan Brite of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

Brite, a highly trained SWAT officer, knows first hand the challenges of putting mind and body on the line to protect the public.

During an active shooter call, Brite was shot in the chest by a suspect with an AK-47. Despite doctors saying he had just a slim chance to live, Brite made a courageous recovery. But now he faced the mental challenges of the trauma and trying to navigate life now that he is paralyzed.

"Why am I paralyzed? Why couldn't the bullet hit the vest?" asked Brite. "Those things went through my mind and I focused on those questions to a point where I was starting to get severely depressed because that's what I would focus on.

Working with leaders at the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Brite overcame his personal challenges and now serves as a wellness officer helping his coworkers with mental health.

"I traveled down that road of the severe depression and suicidal ideation, and I was luckily able with family support to make that 180-degree turn to bounce back," said Brite. "But to be in the position I am as much as I hate the wheelchair, I love the platform I have to speak up about mental health."

Through the work of first responder mental health counselors like Brite, the number of officer suicides is coming down, but it remains a major concern.

In 2020, at least 123 officers have died by suicide.

At the Fountain Police Department, through peer support and other resources, officers are opening up about mental health.

"We've made great progress," said Fountain Police Chief Chris Heberer. "There are win stories in this organization where we sent people to get help. People got help and every single person who got help returned to duty and is still a member of this department."
It's a personal approach to what can be an overwhelming threat.

"As a leader, a psychologist, a counselor, you want to be able to save everybody," said Chief Heberer. "In my experience and what I've always tried to talk about is you just got to save one and make that one impact because if you save that one they have a story. Just like the Douglas County deputy, you've got a story and I know if you could save one that person's going to save some more."

Rooted in this changing culture is the belief that asking for help is a sign of strength instead of weakness.

"I think by opening up and by sharing my story that showed others in the profession it is OK to not be OK," said Brite. "It is OK to talk about the stuff. It's okay to go get the help because if he can do it and he still has his job then I can do the same thing."

If you or someone in your life is in crisis you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.

You can also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK.

To see our previous News5 Investigates reporting on this issue:
https://www.koaa.com/news/covering-colorado/officer-suicides-hit-record-high-in-2019

Here are some additional hotlines and resources:

Pikes Peak Suicide PreventionFree and confidential support groups for adults and adolescents with thoughts or actions toward suicide. Support groups for family members of attempters. Children Left Behind by Suicide: weekly grief support groups for youth who have lost someone to suicide.Site: www.pikespeaksuicideprevention.orgPhone: (719) 573-7447Address: 704 N. Tejon St, Colorado Springs 80903___

Colorado Crisis Services (24 hour hotline)Phone: (844) 493–TALK (8255)Text: "TALK" to 38255Site: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

HeartbeatMonthly support groups for adults who have lost someone to suicide from 7-9pm on the first Tuesday of each month.Location: East Methodist Church, 1505 E. Monument St, 80903Phone: (719) 337-6640Site: www.heartbeatsurvivorsaftersuicide.org___

Aspen Pointe LighthousePhone: (719) 572-6340___

Self-Injury HotlinePhone: (800) 366-8288). {800-DONT-CUT}___

Suicide Prevention (National)Phone: (800) 273-TALK (8255)___

The Trevor ProjectThe only national 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ young people (ages 13-24).Phone: (866) 488-7386Text: "TREVOR" to (202) 304-1200Site: www.thetrevorproject.org___

National Veterans Crisis LinePhone: (800) 273-8255 /press 1___

Vets 4 Warriors(answered 24/7 by veterans)Phone: (855) 838-8255___

Safe2TellPhone: (877) 542-SAFE (7233)___

Peak Military Care NetworkExtensive directory of all local services, and state and national resources, for veterans, active-duty personnel, National Guard and Reserve members, and their families.Phone: (719) 955-0742Site: http://www.pikespeak.co.networkofcare.org/veterans___

Military 1 Source (a hub for all military-related services)Phone: (800) 342-9647