Meet Kevin Briggs, the “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge.” In 1994, he became a California Highway Patrol Officer. Though he did not anticipate his role in suicide prevention, he is now being recognized for helping to prevent over 200 people from jumping off the historic landmark, ending their lives prematurely.
CBC News reports that when Briggs became a highway patrol officer, he thought he’d primarily handle traffic violations. But, as time went on, he realized just how pervasive the issue of suicide is. That’s when he began to learn tactics to talk people down from committing suicide.
“There were four to six cases of suicidal folks on the bridge each and every month,” explained Briggs. “And I had no idea about this, and I grew up in Marin County, which connects to San Francisco via that Golden Gate Bridge…I had no training to handle these types of situations.”
During his first encounter with a suicidal person, Briggs reportedly “did everything wrong that you could.” He told CBC News:
“In the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘Am I responsible if she does jump? What happens here? I had no training in this. This is a really bad scene.’…I was afraid, I didn’t know how to handle that situation.”
“I think my approach right from the start was wrong,” Briggs continued. “Just to walk up right to those folks and start talking with them. Now what I do is I stand back and I’ll just introduce myself. I’ll say ‘Hi I’m Kevin’ or ‘I’m Kevin with the Highway Patrol, is it okay, is it alright if I come up and speak with you for a bit?’ I want to get their permission and empower them.”
One individual who benefited from Briggs’ intervention is Kevin Berthia. The young father was drowning in medical debt and apparently felt like he was at the end of his rope. “He wanted nothing to do with me,” explained Briggs. “And he kept yelling at me ‘Stay back! Stay back, if you come one step further I’m jumping!’ And he was very serious about this. In my mind, if I took one step further then he was gone.”
For over 90 minutes, they discussed the problems Berthia was facing. Eventually, Berthia decided to come back over the ledge. Briggs helped him, then congratulated him.
“I asked him… ‘What happened here?” Said Briggs. “What was the turning point in this? What did I do that helped this situation? And what did I do that wasn’t so good that hurt this situation?’ And all he told me was, ‘You listened. You let me speak, and you listened.’ And that’s all he was looking for and that’s all that many, many people are looking for is someone to listen.”
The takeaway is an important one. Briggs believes most people contemplating suicide don’t want to hear things like, “You’ll get over it.” Rather, they’re seeking affirmation like, ‘Yeah, it’s tough.”
“I try to explain to them, wow that sounds really tough,” said Briggs. “And normalize their situation. That’s a real big one, is to try to normalize their situation. You know, ‘Wow, what you’re going through is a whole lot of stuff and that’d be tough on anybody. I think anyone going through all that might be thinking about suicide’.
”It takes a lot of courage to be over that rail. It takes a lot of courage. But it also takes a lot of courage to come back and face the reality that is with them right now. But there is a brighter side to this, and it can happen, and it might take a long time and a lot of work. But life is beautiful and, you know, it is worth living.”
At the end of the day, what people need most is for someone to simply listen to them. By vocalizing their inner emotions and feeling supported, they may attain clarity on the situation that seems paralyzing. Briggs retired from the California Highway Patrol in 2013. He now works in suicide prevention.
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IMAGE CREDIT: Courtesy of Kevin Briggs