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District Attorney Shares Mental Health Struggles & Pushes For Bill To Improve Access To Care: 'I've Seen Things I Can't Unsee'

DENVER (CBS4) - Adam's County District Attorney Brian Mason is opening up about his own mental health struggles in an effort to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and increase access to care.

"Too many people in law enforcement suffer, often in silence, from mental health struggles. I know this because I'm one of them," Mason said at a press conference meant to build support for a bill that would require insurers to cover annual mental wellness checks just as they do annual physicals.

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"I go to homicide scenes," said Mason. "I go to autopsies. I see things in my role that I cannot unsee. I've had my own mental health crises and close to a mental health breakdown."

Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, sponsor of the bill, says it's aimed at identifying and treating mental health issues before they become a crisis. Just as physicals can flag high cholesterol before it leads to a heart attack, she says, a mental wellness check can detect signs of depression before it leads to a suicide and even reduce the physical manifestations of stress and anxiety like high blood pressure and migraines.

"Imagine you went to the doctor for a physical, and the doctor said, 'hey, you have high blood pressure. Why don't you call me back when you have a heart attack?' That's the state of our mental health care system right now," said Michaelson Jenet.

She says mental health care should be as routine and relevant as physical health care. Her goal is to help people establish a relationship with a primary care therapist like their relationship with their primary care physician.

She knows the importance of the bill firsthand. She has major depressive disorder.

"It is like any other condition can be treated, and if you have access and you know how to get there and if you're doing it on a regular basis," Michaelson Jenet said.

Rep. Brianna Titone, co-sponsor of the bill, says it is needed now more than ever.

"With the pandemic upon us here, still lingering around, a lot of people are still struggling," she said. "So let's get ahead of this and fix these problems early."

In addition to preventing a mental health crisis, Mason says, it will also help prevent crime.

"There's a staggering number of people in the criminal justice system who have mental health struggles."

He says it's not just perpetrators who struggle, but victims and the crimes, he says, have a ripple effect.

"Preventing crime is always better, and I might add cheaper, than prosecuting crime. We can help prevent crime with this bill. By providing annual mental health exams, we can identify problems before people enter the criminal justice system and, hopefully, keep them out altogether. This not only helps those who struggle with mental health, it makes our community safer," Mason said.

The Colorado Association of Health Plans, a trade association for the health insurance industry, says the bill will increase premiums by .1%. Supporters say it will save far more in things like addiction and hospitalization.

If it passes, it would be the first law of its kind in the country. It passed its first committee unanimously.

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