Retired CHP officer leads suicide prevention

Former California Highway Patrol officer Kevin Briggs educated the Clovis Community College community about suicide prevention on Thursday, April 6 as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. (Photo contributed)

The Golden Gate Bridge – often regarded as an iconic landmark in California – has a dark history beneath its glorious structure.

More than 1,700 confirmed suicides have been committed on this landmark since it opened in 1937, according to sfgate.com.

At Clovis Community College on Thursday, April 6, retired California Highway Patrol officer Kevin Briggs spokes about the hundreds of lives he saved on the bridge and the ones he didn’t.

One of the lives he saved was that of Kevin Berthia, a San Francisco man who was seconds away from death when he stood on the edge of the Golden Gate in 2005.

Briggs, who received a call about a man trying to commit suicide, arrived at the scene and saw Berthia as he was getting ready to jump.

That’s when Briggs shouted “Hey, wait a minute,” shocking Berthia and causing him to hold on to the rail at the very last second.

As Berthia remained on the ledge contemplating suicide, Briggs stayed with him for an hour and half. 

“I went up about 10 feet away and asked him for permission to help him come back up. He wanted nothing to do with me,” Briggs said. “He said ‘stay back or I’m jumping.’ He was mad at the world. It took about 20 minutes before he allowed me to talk to him.”

Berthia was adopted. His birth mother didn’t want anything to do with him. His adoptive parents divorced when he was 13.

“He thought he was the cause of it,” Briggs said.

Berthia, who suffered from mental illness, had also stopped taking his medications.

“He thought if he started a family things would get better, so he started a family,” Briggs said. “He had a child, but that baby was born two months premature. He had more than $200,000 in medical bills. Everything was spiraling down.” 

In the 90 minutes on the ledge of the Golden State, Berthia talked about all these things going on his life.

“In those 90 minutes, I spoke for maybe five minutes,” Briggs said. “I focused on one thing, his child.”

But Briggs has a way of of talking about sensitive topics in sensitive times.

“I didn’t say ‘how can you do this to your child?” Briggs said. “I said how do you think your child will grow up without you? That really got into his head. He ended up coming back down that day.”

Today, Berthia is a suicide prevention advocate. He encourages people to talk about their problems rather than thinking about ending their lives.

In May 2013, Berthia presented an award to Briggs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s lifesavers dinner in New York.

Berthia, who had his head down the whole time when he was on the bridge, saw Briggs in the eye for the first time during the dinner in New York.

At Clovis Community College, Briggs left the audience with tips and resources for preventing suicide.

Briggs said never tell a person what they shouldn’t do when they’re trying to commit suicide, adding that it’s also a bad idea to tell them to calm down.

“You tell them to calm down, it gets even worse,” Briggs said.

It’s also wrong to tell to say ‘I understand,’ or to say ‘things are going to get better,’ Briggs added.

“I don’t know that things are going to get better. Why would I tell them that?” Briggs said.

If things don’t get better for the person who tried to commit suicide, Briggs said that will only make them more angry and more likely to try suicide again.

“I always ask each person that I help get over that bridge, ‘What did I do that upset and hurt the situation?’ ‘What did I do that helped?’” Briggs said. “The only thing Berthia told me was ‘You listened. You let me speak. You listened.’”