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How Suicide Prevention Became Part of This Officer’s Job

August 22, 2019

When Kevin Briggs was sent out on his California Highway Patrol motorcycle to monitor the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, he had no training in interacting with suicidal people but the pain and anguish he saw in their eyes affected him instantly and deeply.

“I just wanted to be able to help them,” he said of the four to six people a month he would find teetering on the edge of jumping from the bridge. He lost “a couple,” but many more came “back over the rail” after talking with him. “To see the look in their eyes was like a rebirth, like a little kid. They were scared, nervous and happy to be back over the rail.”

Briggs retired from law enforcement six years ago but remains committed to raising awareness about suicide prevention and the promotion of “active listening skills” training so more people can intervene when someone is threatening suicide. Briggs, who gives motivational talks worldwide on this and his own struggle with depression, will be the keynote speaker at the World Suicide Prevention Day Conference in Hartford sponsored by the Institute of Living on Friday, Sept. 13.

“Active-listening skills are key – how do we get them to feel comfortable enough to talk to us?” he said of suicidal people. “It’s like crisis intervention training, but it’s more than that. It’s more listening. You want to get them talking.”

When he was on patrol for CHP, Briggs said he would always try to personalize conversations with people threatening to jump from the Golden Gate.

“I’m just Kevin at that point,” he said about dropping the “Officer” title. “I want to hear what’s going on. Generally, it’s 20 minutes of problems leading to this action. There’s no judgment, though, no ‘have you tried’ questions. I’m just there, actively listening. I let them know I’m there and I’m just the start.”

His talks focus less on the people he has helped and more on the way he believes anyone can lend a caring ear when someone is threatening suicide. He has seen the power of listening, both professionally and personally. His grandfather took his own life before he was born and Briggs said he struggled with depression on and off for years before seeking help. He also has a son who was suicidal at one point.

“I talk about how all the macho jobs I had – the Army, corrections officer and highway patrol – kept me from seeking help for a long time,” Briggs said. “Like a lot of people, I thought I could handle it and I wasn’t going to allow depression to get the better of me. So I suffered at home, where I’d sit on the couch for days.”

His primary care doctor diagnosed him with depression after a routine physical and he finally sought help through therapy and prescription medication. His talks touch on the importance of seeking help to enjoy a healthier quality of life.

“I also want people to understand that we can help each other, and I give a lot of takeaways in the talk about how we can do that,” he said.

The Institute of Living’s World Suicide Prevention Conference Sept. 13 in Hartford is free and open to the public but registration is required. To sign up, click here. For more information on mental health services offered at the Institute of Living, click here