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Two Guys and a Bridge: A Story of Hope

| Denise Olson

Eleven years ago, Kevin Berthia wanted to take his life. Feeling all was lost and that life had beaten him down, Kevin climbed over the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge and prepared to make the fatal jump when he heard a voice calling out to him from above. It was the voice of Officer Kevin Briggs, known as "the guardian of the Golden Gate." The two talked for an hour, and Berthia climbed back over the railing. Briggs' intervention on that March day in 2005 forever changed Berthia's path in life. 

UW-Eau Claire's Suicide Prevention and Research Collaborative, in partnership with Mayo Clinic Health System, will welcome Berthia and Briggs to campus to help educate the community. "Two Guys and a Bridge," which will begin at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 in Schofield Auditorium, is the story of how two strangers connected in a time of crisis to save a life. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required.

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Office Kevin Briggs and Kevin Berthia in front of the bridge where their paths became forever joined.

Since retiring in 2013, Briggs has published a book about his experiences patrolling the bridge, "Guardian of the Golden Gate: Protecting the Line Between Hope and Despair," and his TED talk has been viewed by millions. After his ordeal on the bridge, Kevin Berthia went on to find effective treatment for his depression, and lives happily as a husband and father.

In this joint presentation, Briggs will address what he feels are the best ways for bystanders to intervene with a person contemplating suicide. Berthia will focus his portion of the presentation on raising awareness regarding the particulars of how mental illness manifests in young males. Both presenters will be available for questions after the presentation.

This important educational opportunity for students and community members is available thanks to a special grant UW-Eau Claire received in 2014. UW-Eau Claire became one of only 15 universities in the country to receive over $300,000 in grant funding from the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to support education of the campus and community about the warning signs of suicidal depression and anxiety in students.

The SAMHSA grant was used to establish UW-Eau Claire's Suicide Prevention and Research Collaborative (SPARC), developed to support and enhance the existing suicide prevention research conducted by Dr. Jennifer Muehlenkamp, professor of psychology. The other researchers include:

  • Christopher Jorgenson, Women's & LGBTQ Resource Center coordinator
  • Dr. Lisa Quinn-Lee, assistant professor of social work
  • Luke Fedie, clinician and clinical case manager in Counseling Services
  • Layla Robel, graduate assistant in psychology
  • Jennifer Hlava, counseling services outreach coordinator
  • Student Health Service staff members Monica Weltzien and Jake Ottersen.

"Suicide is a huge concern on college campuses," Muehlenkamp says. "Approximately 1,100 students are lost to suicide each year across the nation. It is the second leading cause of death in college students."

In the first two years of the three-year grant, much of the education has focused on passive programming and training for students, faculty and staff.

"Trainings include the Campus Connect Gatekeeper Training, as well as Kognito: At Risk Training for faculty and staff," Fedie said. Each training offers scripting and interventions that can be used when dealing with an individual who is in distress. We have also continued to work to promote the online screening tool available through the Counseling Services website as a way to help students check up on themselves."

Other grant developments include a pilot course to be added to the First Year Experience lineup, a two-day resilience development curriculum as well as an undergraduate honors course titled "Understanding Suicide." In addition, a classroom presentation for undergraduates called "Life Savers" has met with positive reviews from students who have expressed "better knowledge of, confidence in, and willingness to intervene with a suicidal peer," according to surveys.

"Everyone on the grant has been working hard to better infuse resilience building and mental health promotion into everyday campus life, along with some specific suicide prevention training and behind the scenes protocol development," Muehlenkamp said.

For tickets to tickets to "Two Guys and a Bridge" see the Service Center website. For more information about SPARC and the available bystander intervention training programs, contact Counseling Services.

Photo caption: Officer Kevin Briggs looks at the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, where he worked for years to help people who were contemplating suicide stay safe.