CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CBS4) – Three years after a shooting paralyzed Det. Dan Brite while he was on duty, he is embracing his latest assignment for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. As the wellness coordinator, he will help other deputies navigate the challenges of mental health based on his own experience.
“Our sole focus is on the physical, mental, social, and spiritual wellness of our employees and their families,” Brite said. “Given what I been through from my injury and the mental struggles, I was all in supporting that and trying to help build that up from the ground.”
He helped to launch the initiative six months ago when he was asked by the department to lead the program. Providing a chiropractor, massage therapy, financial classes and yoga sessions are just some of his responsibilities. He also helps deputies go on marriage retreats.
Brite says wellness extends to stress on the job as well as at home for everyone in the family.
“It’s a very rewarding program that the first responder community probably should have had something like this many years ago,” he said.
The position is not common across agencies in the state or around the country, but Brite believes it is long overdue. He says first responders are realizing they need to change the culture that has told them to hide their feelings.
“We learned to suppress everything 24/7,” he said. “We’re suppressing the emotions and not having really an avenue to vent, to help release all the stressers from all those emotions that we’ve experienced.”
Their profession forces them to be around traumatic events daily, and Brite says they have to understand that addressing mental health will allow them to come back to their jobs in a better mindset.
“For the longest time, in this community, it’s been, you know, ‘suck it up, deal with the emotions,'” he said. “You don’t want to appear to be weak, you don’t want to lose your job because you have mental health issues.”
It is a challenge he learned on Sept. 2, 2016 when he was shot in the chest responding to a call of a suicidal man who was firing at deputies. The man was later shot by another deputy and died from his injuries.
Brite was paralyzed and immediately lost the ability to do so much that he counted on for his job. It was difficult for the detective to watch others go out on calls while he stayed back.
“It is OK to not be OK. It is OK to ask for help. You can still do this job,” he said. “When I came back from work from my injury, I really struggled with my identity.”
Brite says he dealt with depression and even had suicidal thoughts. An issue he believes needs more attention in law enforcement. Suicide can be more concerning for officers than a car crash or someone trying to shoot them.
Brite says that is based on voluntarily data from agencies. If reporting were mandatory, he believes we would see higher numbers from coast to coast.
“We spent many, many years talking about mental health and it’s time we actually take action, we’re done talking about it,” he said. “They’re our people, and we owe it to them, to look out for our mental health.”
He hopes other agencies will follow in the direction of Douglas County; not just asking an officer to take on their wellness program, but to make it a full-time position. He also wants to see legislation that makes it easier for first responders to get help and seek it out confidentially.
“Hiding it is one of the worst things you can do and there is no shame in reaching out for help,” Brite said. “I have no issue with publicly announcing I have mental health issues and I get help, and I’m a much better person for it.”