When former Bronco Bucky Dilts came to the end of a long road of tribulations that included the loss of two family members to suicide, he decided to go public with his story. Questioning his skills as a public speaker, he heeded advice that proved wise.
Dilts was the keynote speaker May 10 at the Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network benefit luncheon. Before a packed crowd, he stepped up to the lectern to “just tell his story” about his experience with mental illness.
His story held the crowd rapt.
Dilts joined the NFL in 1977 as a punter with the Denver Broncos, leaving the league after three years to launch a career in sales. His first brush with depression came in 1984, with the suicide of his 28-year-old sister.
Twelve years later, suicide touched his life again when Dilts and his wife received news that his mother-in-law took her own life.
The personal crises continued in 2000, when Dilts lost his wife to divorce after 20 years of marriage. At the time, it was his darkest hour. He isolated himself from friends and family, went through four jobs in six years and began to entertain dark thoughts of his own.
“I couldn’t do anything,” Dilts said. “I was just about thinking about suicide. I was almost there.”
In 2004, Dilts’s ex-wife was diagnosed with Stage IV cervical cancer. She did not want to tell the couple’s two children, who would not know they were losing their mother until about two months before her 2006 death.
In the wake of her death, Dilts threw himself into the task of raising his children, until his world was derailed again. In 2008 Dilts got his own diagnosis — prostate cancer.
“It really got to me,” he said. “But it gave me an opportunity to talk about things people don’t want to talk about and it led me to this.”
After Dilts successfully fought his cancer, he embarked on a speaking career to address the stigma of suicide and the effects of depression. He ran into some resistance among family members who didn’t want him to expose his family’s experience, showcasing the stigma he says ranks among the greatest treatment challenges.
“People want to hide it,” he said. “They’re ashamed of it to the point they won’t seek treatment. Others don’t want to talk about it at all. It’s time to shelve stigma. Stigma sucks.”
Dilts partnered with the Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network to help promote its latest effort for treatment of mental health issues. The network serves residents of Arapahoe and Douglas counties with free and reduced-cost mental health treatment in Littleton, Englewood, Parker and Castle Rock.
The network launched a Mental Health First Aid course to teach people how to recognize signs of mental illness in hopes of reducing the number of suicides in Colorado. The number of suicides through April in Douglas County was 25, compared with 14 at the same time in 2012, according to the Douglas County Coroner’s Office.
“Every 15 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide,” said Joan DiMaria, executive director of the Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network. “We can and we will end that.”
For more information about the Mental Health First Aid course or to find a treatment center near you, visit admhn.org or call 303-730-8858. The network’s emergency mental health help line is 303-730-3303.
Lawman named community leader of year
The Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network named Douglas County Sheriff’s Capt. Attila Denes the community leader of the year for his work as the agency’s Crisis Intervention Team coordinator. The CIT team trains law-enforcement officers to recognize signs of a mental health crisis and to help assess proper response while in the field.
Denes implemented the CIT program in the south metro area and eventually helped the program expand statewide. Part of the program’s goal is to eliminate the stigma of mental illness and increase access to treatment through education, advocacy and support.
“I am deeply honored and humbled to work with so many dedicated professionals who have dedicated their lives to mental health issues,” Denes said.
Denes has been a board member of the Crisis Intervention Teams Association of Colorado since 2007. For more info