Not all heroes wear capes. Some, like former California Highway Patrol officer Kevin Briggs, wear a traffic cop uniform and a smile.
[rebelmouse-image 19477905 dam="1" original_size="735x368" caption="All screenshots from "The Traffic Cop Who Became the Guardian of the Golden Gate."" expand=1]All screenshots from "The Traffic Cop Who Became the Guardian of the Golden Gate."
Former San Francisco Sergeant Kevin Briggs has been credited with preventing more than 200 people from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
The iconic — but notorious — California landmark has gained a conflicting reputation as one of the sites that has the highest number of suicides in the United States: Almost 1,700 people have jumped to their deaths.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
One of those people was a man named James, who jumped right in front of Briggs — and that experience changed his life forever.
“I know that when someone gets to that level, it’s very, very difficult to get through to them and to get them to come back. But, we have to try.”
Briggs learned more about James' history, including his struggles with mental illness. It was a common thread that Briggs saw during his years as a highway traffic patrol cop. He saw people contemplate suicide often, and his job was to work with them to see if he could get them back.
But Briggs didn't have a lot of experience with mental illness. His office didn't have any training on how to work with people struggling with mental illness, so he researched it himself. He went through the basics of mental illness, the stage of various illnesses, and how to approach someone contemplating suicide.
His dedication mattered. In 2005, Briggs was photographed talking Kevin Berthia off the bridge ledge in an iconic photo.
Berthia was one of many people who Briggs helped to save. As he gained more experience with preventing people from jumping off the bridge, he asked them about his methods — including what worked and what didn't — so he could help more people.
“It took a lot of courage to go over that rail," said Briggs. "Personally, I think it takes even more courage to come back.”
While the academic understanding of mental illness was relatively new to Briggs, suicide was not. He lost his grandfather to suicide as a child.
A young Kevin Briggs.
Briggs was aware that mental illness could be in his family, but his own diagnosis was still a surprise.
It wasn't until he saw his doctor for a routine physical that he was diagnosed with depression. This revelation only pushed Briggs to learn and help others even more.
“If I’m experiencing these things — if I can help somebody else through a very, very dark time, I’m gonna. I’m gonna do my darnedest to try and do that.”
Though retired, Briggs shows no signs of slowing down on his journey to help others. He began giving speeches around the country — including a powerful Ted Talk — on how to develop the necessary courage and skills to help others suffering with suicidal thoughts.
In 2014, Kevin Briggs gave a moving Ted Talk on the bridge between suicide and life.
Initially afraid of being ridiculed at his job or ostracized by friends, Briggs ended up receiving numerous letters of gratitude from people struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, who thanked him for his work and influence in their lives. Through his work, he's gained numerous new friends around the world, and he's changed lives while doing it.
“I want to reach as many people as I can, to show them that there is a way not only to survive, but to thrive.”
Watch Kevin Briggs talk about his life-saving work below: