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Former Golden Gate Bridge patrolman Kevin Briggs discusses depression, mental health

| Friday, October 7, 2016

“[In 2014], we had over 32,000 traffic accident fatalities, but over 42,000 deaths from suicide … Look at the money we spend on traffic, safety belts and everything else,” Sergeant Kevin Briggs said Thursday evening in DeBartolo Hall. “How much do we spend on mental health? Not nearly enough.” 

Briggs, a former highway patrolman who has talked many individuals out of committing suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, spoke as a part of Irish State of MiND Week. He discussed his experiences helping those with depression, his own struggles with depression and on suicide prevention. 

Kevin Briggs speaks Thursday night in DeBartolo Hall. The former highway patrolman has saved numerous people from committing suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge. Lucas Masin-Moyer | The Observer

Kevin Briggs speaks Thursday night in DeBartolo Hall. The former highway patrolman has saved numerous people from committing suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Briggs said the most important aspect in helping others is establishing trust.

“What I have learned is to empower these folks the best that I can,” he said. “I want to develop a rapport — I use their first name, they use my first name. Developing that rapport is the biggest thing.”

This empowerment was crucial in preventing individuals from jumping off the bridge, Briggs said.

“What I want to happen to come back on their own, I will help them — I don’t want to grab them,” he said. “Coming back on your own, to face everything you went over for, takes a lot of courage.”

While attempting to help those with depression, Briggs said he was simultaneously struggling with depression of his own, due to cancer, the death of his mother, a concussion and divorce.

“So all this stuff took a heavy, heavy toll on me in the form of depression. What I found out was that I could go to work and function at 100 percent, [but] when I got home, I didn’t do a thing,” he said. “Of all the stuff … depression hit me the hardest. That’s what I want to tell you — depression will knock you down very, very hard.”

One of the most important things that someone can do to help someone struggling with depression is to simply listen, he said. Briggs recounted a story of how, after he stopped someone from jumping off the bridge, he asked the individual what he did that helped.

“All he said was, ‘You listened. You let me talk and you listened,’” Briggs said. “All I did was listen, and that’s what we want to do, before someone gets up to that bridge, or on top of a building, or with a gun to their head.”

He stressed that if you see someone who exhibits signs of severe depression or suicidal thoughts, it is of the utmost importance to speak to them.

“Most of these time, these people feel like they are in a corner, all by themselves, that no one is going through what they’re going through,” Briggs said. “Many times by just telling them, ‘I’m here for you, I care for you,’ helps a lot.”

Briggs said it is important to make those struggling feel comfortable when talking to them about their mental health issues.

“Do it in a setting where they are comfortable,” he said. “Do it in a setting where they are comfortable to break down, because that’s what they’re going to do.”

In a community such as a college, Briggs said it is critical that students look after one another.

“You folks are a community here with the ability to take care of each other,” he said. “More [likely than not], your peers are not going to tell an adult — they’re going to tell one of you.”

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About Lucas Masin-Moyer

Lucas Masin-Moyer is a Sophomore at Notre Dame majoring in Political Science and American Studies, with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy. He serves as Associate News Editor, lives in Morrissey Manor and hails from Telford, Pennsylvania.

Contact Lucas