I was researching potential speakers about nine months ago when I stumbled across a youtube video of a TED Talk done by Kevin Briggs. The more I listened to his presentations, and the more I researched him, the more I knew we needed him in Omaha to help spread his powerful message of suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Luckily, I was able to track him down and get him scheduled for our Time for Hope & Healing luncheon on October 13th at Embassy Suites & Conference Center in LaVista.
While it’s impressive enough that Kevin is a retired Sergeant from the California Highway Patrol and retired military, he is also a cancer survivor, has lived experience with depression, and is a father to two healthy, fun-loving boys. All of this comes out in his recently released book, Guardian of the Golden Gate – Protecting the Line Between Hope and Despair. This book provides insight into his life on patrol, as well as an honest, candid look into many personal struggles he has faced in his journey. One thing that really struck me through his story is that no matter how many obstacles presented to Kevin both personally and professionally, he continued to push forward with a zealous attitude and deep appreciation for each day. I suppose that when faced with cancer and seeing life and death daily on the job, one would grow to appreciate life’s moments more, but to keep that up as regular practice is humbling and a good reminder to those of us who struggle to do so.
The book discusses the staggering statistics of individuals who attempt and succeed to take their lives on the Golden Gate Bridge (Bridge) in California. More than 40 completed suicides happen each year at the Bridge, making it one of the most deadly suicide destinations in the world. One of Kevin’s views of the Bridge is this, “One of the most beautiful and iconic structures in the world is something like a magnet for men and women who are tired of fighting their demons.” Throughout his book he tells story after story about individuals he’s come in contact with on the Bridge . . . some that he lost, some that he was able to talk back over the rail. I just can’t imagine the emotional strength and desire to want to make a difference one must possess to return to the Bridge each day to help others choose to live. That is how Kevin looks at it; he’s not “saving” them from suicide, he’s helping them make the choice to live another day.
One theme that resonated with us at the foundation throughout Guardian of the Golden Gate was the importance Kevin placed on hope. Kevin states that he tries to promote hope above all else. “Hope can get us through so much. Hope can get people through that dark time because hope means better times may be on the way.” At the foundation, we often say that with help comes hope, and with hope comes healing. We often talk about serving as a supportive resource to those impacted by mental illness and that they aren’t alone in this, we are here for them and for their families. Kevin reiterates this message throughout his entire book, and through his work on the bridge. He made many in crisis understand that it may not get better right away, but that he was there for them and would help them get help.
Kevin also makes another point several times in Guardian of the Golden Gate that we often make at The Kim Foundation. Mental illness is a nondiscriminatory disease. It impacts people from all walks of life. Kevin says about his time on duty, “You learn quickly that depression and suicidal thoughts have no cultural bias; mental disease can affect anyone.” People often think they are immune to the difficulties that mental illness can bring to someone’s life. They think it will never happen to them. The truth is that one in four Americans are impacted by mental illness each year, and at one point or another in our lives, we will all most likely be impacted in some way. Kevin does a wonderful job of illustrating this through his real life stories of individuals and families he has grown to know through his years as a first responder and suicide prevention advocate. People he has worked with come from all walks of life, are at different stages in their lives, and each had a different trigger of what brought them to the Bridge.
The openness and hopefulness that Kevin writes with in Guardian of the Golden Gate makes it a must read for anyone who has an interest in suicide prevention and crisis intervention. We cannot wait for Kevin to join us in Omaha in October, and know that he will make this Time for Hope & Healing a memorable one. His book will be available at the event, as well as an opportunity to meet Kevin and have him sign your copy. If you would like more information on the event and how you can attend please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402.891.6997.
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation for three years, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the executive committee of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, RESPECT Advisory Committee, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition and the Adolescent Mental Health Coalition. She also serves on the Women’s Fund Circles Board.