Colorado widow raises awareness about law enforcement suicides on World Suicide Prevention Day

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. -- A local woman who lost her husband to suicide is raising awareness about law enforcement mental health.

Tom Staples was a husband, a father and a sergeant with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

His wife, Joanna, says he loved to be outdoors and to barbecue, and he had a great sense of humor. However, she says his best quality was his servant’s heart.

“He loved and lived to serve and help others, and he was good at it,” she said.

Life seemed to be going well for the couple. But on May 2, something unthinkable happened: Tom died by suicide.

“It was shocking, and it was very unexpected. We never imagined that our lives would be shattered the way that they were,” Joanna said.

Tom's family had no idea he had been struggling.

“He saw a lot of difficult, difficult things, but he put on a brave face every day,” Joanna said. “He was a Marine and he was a police officer, so he was trained to be strong, move on to the next event.”

Now, as his family tries to find a new path forward, they want other families to learn from their experience.

“I want people to learn that there is help out there, and don't be afraid to ask for it,” Joanna said.

That’s something Det. Dan Brite with DCSO is pushing for as well.

“That's the battle that we are facing now, is trying to change that stoic culture that has been embedded in this profession for so many years,” Brite said.

Brite was shot and nearly killed in the line of duty three years ago, and he too struggled.

“I did travel down that road of having suicidal thoughts,” he said.

After getting help, Brite now leads a new wellness program for the DCSO focusing on the physical, mental, social and spiritual wellness of employees and their families.

One goal is to help officers know it’s OK to have the emotions, and then learn a way to process them.

Brite and Joanna hope to prevent other officer suicides, and for World Suicide Prevention Day, they are hoping to raise awareness.

According to Blue H.E.L.P., for the third straight year, police suicides outnumbered line-of-duty deaths.

But there is help available. Several metro-area police and fire agencies now have wellness programs with resources for first responders.

If you are concerned about a person in your life, you can call the Colorado Crisis Hotline at 844-493-8255.

Other resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255): Speak with someone who will provide free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To learn how to help someone in crisis, call the same number.

Colorado Crisis Services Walk-In Locations: Walk-in crisis service centers are open 24/7, and offer confidential, in-person crisis support, information and referrals to anyone in need.

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