That photo of Kevin Berthia standing on the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge, ready to end it all as officer Kevin Briggs attempts to pull him from the abyss, is one of the most iconic photos of the 21st century. For 92 minutes, the people watching held their collective breaths, hoping that Briggs would convince Berthia to give life another chance.
The ordeal ended with Berthia offering his hands to Briggs and another officer, who pulled him away from the ledge. Berthia’s life wasn’t in immediate danger anymore, but the turmoil in his head raged on. He needed to find healing to avoid ending up on another ledge.
A combination of mental health issues and debt prompted Berthia to commit suicide
Kevin Berthia was born with a major depression disorder, but he refused to accept he had depression. “Where I come from – Oakland, California – reputation is everything, so I convinced everyone I was OK,” He wrote.
The premature birth of his daughter complicated matters. She’d been in an incubator for eight weeks, and her medical bill had risen to nearly $250,000. The stress combined with the depression disorder prompted Berthia to end his life – he chose the Golden Gate Bridge as his final destination.
Berthia said he didn’t know how to get there, so he asked for directions. He told WBNS:
“Up to that point, I internalized every emotion I ever had and never dealt with it and just moved on, and that’s what I did my whole life. On that day, March 11, 2005, I wasn’t able to get past, out of my head. It was the first day I literally completely lost hope, and unfortunately I drove myself to the Golden Gate Bridge.”
Officer Briggs called out to Berthia as he crossed the railing. The call made Berthia pause long enough for Briggs to get to him and spark a conversation. Berthia and Briggs talked as he stood on a drainage pipe and held onto the railing.
Briggs, now a retired California Highway Patrol officer, said he had no experience dealing with suicidal people: “I had no experience in this. I had crossed the bridge many times before going on with the highway patrol and no idea about the number of suicides or suicide attempts from that bridge.”
Briggs and Berthia didn’t speak for years as Berthia tried to forget the incident on the bridge
For the first time in his life, Berthia talked freely about his life’s struggles. “I got everything out and he [Briggs] listened without judging,” Berthia wrote.
Briggs convinced Berthia to get off the ledge by showing him the important things in his life, including his daughter, who was weeks away from her first birthday. Berthia told StoryCorps (via NPR):
“I was just mad at myself for being in that situation and I was embarrassed. But somehow the compassion in your voice is what allowed me to kinda let my guard down enough for us to have a conversation. You made me see that if nothing else, I need to live for her.”
Berthia and Briggs hailed from vastly different backgrounds, but the officer with no suicide prevention experience convinced Berthia to keep living. “At no point did he have to be what he was for me, but he still did that,” Berthia said.
Berthia wrote in The Guardian that seeing that photo of himself on the bridge plastered on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle forced him back into his shell, where he stayed for years. Eight years later, he faced the incident and Briggs again for the first time since that famous day.
In May 2013, he was requested to present Briggs with an award at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s lifesavers dinner. Berthia wrote:
“That was the first time I had looked him in the eye – on the bridge I had my head down. At that dinner I saw the impact of the photograph on everyone in the room and realized my story could help people.”
Berthia wrote that Officer Briggs saved his life twice: “I had had a lot of highs and lows in those intervening eight years. But that night was the first time I actually started to feel OK. So, really, Officer Briggs saved my life twice.”
Kevin Berthia is a mental health and suicide prevention advocate
That night in May 2013, Berthia realized he could use his story to help people. “I have since become a suicide prevention advocate, encouraging people to talk through their problems rather than think about ending their lives,” Berthia continued.
Berthia founded The Kevin Berthia Foundation to assist and support people with mental health conditions. He uses his experience to educate people about suicide and how to prevent it. “No one knows more about the darkness that surrounds suicide than those who have walked in its shadow,” Berthia writes on his website.
Berthia tweets often about how grateful he is for the opportunity to share his story. “Tremendously blessed to share my story! WE GOT THIS!” Berthia tweeted on 27th January 2023.
Briggs, who became known as the Guardian of the Golden State Bridge, retired, having saved more than 200 people from suicide.