Opening Ceremony Speaker California Highway Patrol (CHP) Sergeant (Ret) Kevin Briggs will talk about the importance of seeking help if contemplating suicide. Known as the “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge,” Sgt.Briggs has spent up to seven hours talking to one potential jumper before he decided not to take his life. During his 20-year career, through sheer compassion and expert listening skills, Sgt. Briggs convinced over 200 despondent people not to jump. He became their bridge between life and death. Some call him a hero. Others call him a Guardian Angel.
“When I approached a person on the bridge poised to jump, I took a humanistic approach and introduced myself just as Kevin. I’d ask them if we could talk,” said Sgt. Briggs who is renowned for his special patience and skill in talking with distraught people. “The crisis was about them, not me. I wanted to empower them in this critical moment and help them make decisions about their future. I wanted to give them a reason and the courage to climb back over the railing and choose life,” he continued.
A Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) expert, Sgt. Briggs is committed to suicide prevention and de-stigmatizing mental illness. He works to instill mental health awareness among the law enforcement community and general public. Since retiring from the CHP in the Fall of 2013, Sgt. Briggs has become a sought-after public speaker encouraging international audiences to seek help if suicidal.
“It takes a lot of guts to ask for help. I want people to know that it’s okay to ‘raise your hand’ and ask for help. There is hope,” said Sgt. Briggs.
In early 2014, Sgt. Briggs gave a TED talk in Vancouver, B.C. and in October 2013, he received the prestigious national Jefferson Award for public service in America. In May 2013, he was recognized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and reunited with Kevin Berthia, a potential jumper he helped talk back to safety in March of 2005, who presented him with the Public Service Award at the AFSP Lifesavers Dinner at Lincoln Center in New York City.
I was tired of dealing with the pain,” Berthia remembered about that day. For over an hour, Sgt. Briggs calmly and patiently talked him through his desperation and off the ledge back to safety. “He took the time to really get to know me for who I am and not judge me about my situation,” Berthia explained. “That was my angel that day. That was the only person that was going to bring me over that railing. I didn't want him to try and stop me, but now I'm glad he did.” Berthia plans to support the NAMIWalk SF Bay Area on May 31st and listen to Sgt. Briggs, who has since become his good friend.
Last year’s NAMIWalk Opening Ceremony Speaker, Kevin Hines, is one of only a few to have jumped off the bridge and survived. Sgt. Briggs was not on duty the day Hines jumped in September 2000, but visited him in the hospital while he was recovering from the injuries he sustained from the 220 foot plunge into the Pacific Ocean. Fate has bonded them together, and today, the two Kevins often speak together to groups and organizations advocating for suicide prevention and encouraging everyone to seek help if they are depressed and feeling suicidal.
Founded in 1979, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a non-profit, grassroots organization with over 1,000 affiliates nationwide that provides education, support services and advocacy to improve the lives of everyone affected by mental illness. Thousands of families, volunteers, community groups, corporate employees, medical personnel, Veterans and people living with mental illness from across the Bay Area will join over 80 communities holding walks across the nation during May–National Mental Health Month, established in 1949.
NAMI’s free programs are open to individuals in need of mental health services and their families. Programs provide education and support for managing conditions of mental illness and breaking down the stigma of seeking help. To find a local Bay Area NAMI affiliate, go to NAMI.org.
NAMI Bay Area programs include:
· Family-to-Family is NAMI’s multi-week peer-led education and support group for family members, caregivers and loved ones of individuals living with mental illness. It provides a vital free service, especially for those who might not seek treatment or counseling for themselves. The support group leverages the collective knowledge and experience of the other participants. Groups generally meet on a weekly or monthly basis.
· Parents and Teachers as Allies is an in-service program helping school professionals better understand the early warning signs of mental illnesses in children.
· In Our Own Voice is NAMI’s anti-stigma speaker’s bureau that helps others understand mental health issues through discussion of first-hand experiences of people living with a mental health issue themselves.
· Ending the Silence is an in-school presentation about mental health designed for high school students. Students can learn about mental illness directly from family members and individuals living with mental illness themselves.
· Peer-to-Peer is a peer-led, multi-session course. It provides a confidential place to learn from shared experiences in an environment of sincere, uncritical acceptance.
· Multi-cultural agency partnerships provide classes and education materials on mental illness in Spanish and Chinese.
· Advocacy – NAMI advocates politically locally and nationally for improved public policies addressing the needs of people with mental illness and their families.
· Veterans and Military Personnel Resource Center provides information online for Veterans and active duty personnel and their families at www.NAMI.org.
The 10th Annual 5K NAMIWalk SF Bay Area is Saturday, May 31st at Lindley Meadow in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (30th Avenue and John F. Kennedy Drive, San Francisco, CA 94121)
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NOTE to Producers, Assignment Editors and Reporters: Phone interviews with Kevin Briggs are available by arrangement in the days leading up to the walk and in-person on-site at the NAMIWalk SF Bay Area on Saturday, May 31, 2014 in Lindley Meadow in San Francisco’s Golden GatePark.