Brian Mason, 17th Judicial District Attorney, is getting out in front of Colorado’s mental health crisis in somewhat unconventional ways for a DA.
“This doesn’t sound like a traditional program for a district attorney’s office, but I envision our role in a much broader sense than perhaps others have before me. That is, we’re not just here to prosecute crime,” Mason said.
In a uniquely consequential moment for Colorado’s mental health crisis, the DA for Adams and Broomfield counties has publicly advocated for legislation related to mental health and launched a crisis hotline. Mason said he’s driven to do what he is by a simple desire to help his community, but also because it inadvertently helps him do his job.
“Anything I can do to prevent crime, to keep people out of the system and to keep people from becoming victimized, I’m going to do,” Mason said.
A disproportionate number of people who commit crimes deal with mental health issues, he said, as do many victims of crimes. By addressing those issues upfront, the DA hopes that fewer people will commit crimes.
Responding to those considerations, Mason first joined a May 12 press conference alongside state lawmakers and Adams County Commissioner Emma Pinter to advocate for two bills in the state legislature related to mental health.
Colorado House Bill 1068 requires insurance companies to cover an annual mental health wellness examination. Colorado House Bill 1258 establishes a state office of behavioral health to facilitate access to mental health services. House Bill 1068 recently passed in the legislature and await Gov. Jared Polis’ signature to become law. House Bill 1258 passed in the state Senate and was sent back to the state House.
Mason said at the news, “I’m really excited about it and glad to have played a small part in their passage.”
After the press conference, Mason’s office launched a mental health crisis hotline — what it’s calling the “Summer Life Line” — that people can call and receive free mental health counseling by trained professionals. The counselors are part of the district attorney office’s youth diversion program.
“My office is running this hotline, but this is not for people who are worried about getting into the criminal justice system or who are already in the criminal justice system, this is for everybody. We wanted to provide this resource to give help to those in need,” Mason said.
Mason’s office announced the hotline days after Colorado Children’s Hospital declared a “pediatric mental health state of emergency.” New data showed the hospital that mental health emergency visits increased by 90 percent in the past two years, a lot due to suicide attempts.
Mason sees these initiatives as the first steps in an ongoing effort by him and his staff around the issue. Another side of the mental health crisis he plans to keep talking about is that of the law enforcement profession itself.
Mason said he wants to lead by example by being open about his own struggles with mental health and encourages cities to consider resources for their officers.
“I don’t want a police officer who is suffering from a mental health struggle to be out on the streets with a gun,” Mason said. “Folks in the law enforcement community who don’t address their own mental health struggles can then end up having a crisis that hurt our community and hurt themselves.”