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  • I recently retired

  • from the California Highway Patrol

  • after 23 years of service.

  • The majority of those 23 years

  • was spent patrolling the southern end

  • of Marin County,

  • which includes the Golden Gate Bridge.

  • The bridge is an iconic structure,

  • known worldwide

  • for its beautiful views of San Francisco,

  • the Pacific Ocean, and its inspiring architecture.

  • Unfortunately, it is also a magnet for suicide,

  • being one of the most utilized sites in the world.

  • The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937.

  • Joseph Strauss, chief engineer in charge of building the bridge,

  • was quoted as saying,

  • "The bridge is practically suicide-proof.

  • Suicide from the bridge

  • is neither practical nor probable."

  • But since its opening,

  • over 1,600 people have leapt to their death

  • from that bridge.

  • Some believe that traveling

  • between the two towers

  • will lead you to another dimension --

  • this bridge has been romanticized as such

  • that the fall from that

  • frees you from all your worries and grief,

  • and the waters below

  • will cleanse your soul.

  • But let me tell you what actually occurs

  • when the bridge is used

  • as a means of suicide.

  • After a free fall of four to five seconds,

  • the body strikes the water

  • at about 75 miles an hour.

  • That impact shatters bones,

  • some of which then puncture vital organs.

  • Most die on impact.

  • Those that don't

  • generally flail in the water helplessly,

  • and then drown.

  • I don't think that those who contemplate

  • this method of suicide

  • realize how grisly a death that they will face.

  • This is the cord.

  • Except for around the two towers,

  • there is 32 inches of steel

  • paralleling the bridge.

  • This is where most folks stand

  • before taking their lives.

  • I can tell you from experience

  • that once the person is on that cord,

  • and at their darkest time,

  • it is very difficult to bring them back.

  • I took this photo last year

  • as this young woman spoke to an officer

  • contemplating her life.

  • I want to tell you very happily

  • that we were successful that day

  • in getting her back over the rail.

  • When I first began working on the bridge,

  • we had no formal training.

  • You struggled to funnel your way through these calls.

  • This was not only a disservice

  • to those contemplating suicide,

  • but to the officers as well.

  • We've come a long, long way since then.

  • Now, veteran officers and psychologists

  • train new officers.

  • This is Jason Garber.

  • I met Jason on July 22 of last year

  • when I get received a call

  • of a possible suicidal subject

  • sitting on the cord near midspan.

  • I responded, and when I arrived,

  • I observed Jason

  • speaking to a Golden Gate Bridge officer.

  • Jason was just 32 years old

  • and had flown out here from New Jersey.

  • As a matter of fact,

  • he had flown out here on two other occasions

  • from New Jersey

  • to attempt suicide on this bridge.

  • After about an hour of speaking with Jason,

  • he asked us if we knew the story of Pandora's box.

  • Recalling your Greek mythology,

  • Zeus created Pandora,

  • and sent her down to Earth with a box,

  • and told her, "Never, ever open that box."

  • Well one day, curiosity got the better of Pandora,

  • and she did open the box.

  • Out flew plagues, sorrows,

  • and all sorts of evils against man.

  • The only good thing in the box was hope.

  • Jason then asked us,

  • "What happens when you open the box

  • and hope isn't there?"

  • He paused a few moments,

  • leaned to his right,

  • and was gone.

  • This kind, intelligent young man from New Jersey

  • had just committed suicide.

  • I spoke with Jason's parents that evening,

  • and I suppose that, when I was speaking with them,

  • that I didn't sound as if I was doing very well,

  • because that very next day,

  • their family rabbi called to check on me.

  • Jason's parents had asked him to do so.

  • The collateral damage of suicide

  • affects so many people.

  • I pose these questions to you:

  • What would you do if your family member,

  • friend or loved one was suicidal?

  • What would you say?

  • Would you know what to say?

  • In my experience, it's not just the talking that you do,

  • but the listening.

  • Listen to understand.

  • Don't argue, blame,

  • or tell the person you know how they feel,

  • because you probably don't.

  • By just being there,

  • you may just be the turning point that they need.

  • If you think someone is suicidal,

  • don't be afraid to confront them and ask the question.

  • One way of asking them the question is like this:

  • "Others in similar circumstances

  • have thought about ending their life;

  • have you had these thoughts?"

  • Confronting the person head-on

  • may just save their life and be the turning point for them.

  • Some other signs to look for:

  • hopelessness, believing that things are terrible

  • and never going to get better;

  • helplessness, believing that there is nothing

  • that you can do about it;

  • recent social withdrawal;

  • and a loss of interest in life.

  • I came up with this talk just a couple of days ago,

  • and I received an email from a lady

  • that I'd like to read you her letter.

  • She lost her son on January 19 of this year,

  • and she wrote me this email

  • just a couple of days ago,

  • and it's with her permission and blessing

  • that I read this to you.

  • "Hi, Kevin. I imagine you're at the TED Conference.

  • That must be quite the experience to be there.

  • I'm thinking I should go walk the bridge this weekend.

  • Just wanted to drop you a note.

  • Hope you get the word out to many people

  • and they go home talking about it

  • to their friends who tell their friends, etc.

  • I'm still pretty numb,

  • but noticing more moments of really realizing

  • Mike isn't coming home.

  • Mike was driving from Petaluma to San Francisco

  • to watch the 49ers game with his father

  • on January 19.

  • He never made it there.

  • I called Petaluma police

  • and reported him missing that evening.

  • The next morning,

  • two officers came to my home

  • and reported that Mike's car was down at the bridge.

  • A witness had observed him jumping off the bridge

  • at 1:58 p.m. the previous day.

  • Thanks so much

  • for standing up for those

  • who may be only temporarily too weak

  • to stand for themselves.

  • Who hasn't been low before

  • without suffering from a true mental illness?

  • It shouldn't be so easy to end it.

  • My prayers are with you for your fight.

  • The GGB, Golden Gate Bridge,

  • is supposed to be a passage across

  • our beautiful bay,

  • not a graveyard.

  • Good luck this week. Vicky."

  • I can't imagine the courage it takes for her

  • to go down to that bridge and walk the path

  • that her son took that day,

  • and also the courage just to carry on.

  • I'd like to introduce you to a man

  • I refer to as hope and courage.

  • On March 11 of 2005,

  • I responded to a radio call of a possible

  • suicidal subject on the bridge sidewalk

  • near the north tower.

  • I rode my motorcycle down the sidewalk

  • and observed this man, Kevin Berthia,

  • standing on the sidewalk.

  • When he saw me, he immediately traversed

  • that pedestrian rail,

  • and stood on that small pipe

  • which goes around the tower.

  • For the next hour and a half,

  • I listened as Kevin spoke about

  • his depression and hopelessness.

  • Kevin decided on his own that day

  • to come back over that rail

  • and give life another chance.

  • When Kevin came back over,

  • I congratulated him.

  • "This is a new beginning, a new life."

  • But I asked him, "What was it

  • that made you come back

  • and give hope and life another chance?"

  • And you know what he told me?

  • He said, "You listened.

  • You let me speak, and you just listened."

  • Shortly after this incident,

  • I received a letter from Kevin's mother,

  • and I have that letter with me,

  • and I'd like to read it to you.

  • "Dear Mr. Briggs,

  • Nothing will erase the events of March 11,

  • but you are one of the reasons Kevin is still with us.

  • I truly believe Kevin was crying out for help.

  • He has been diagnosed with a mental illness

  • for which he has been properly medicated.

  • I adopted Kevin when he was only six months old,

  • completely unaware of any hereditary traits,

  • but, thank God, now we know.

  • Kevin is straight, as he says.

  • We truly thank God for you.

  • Sincerely indebted to you,

  • Narvella Berthia."

  • And on the bottom she writes,

  • "P.S. When I visited San Francisco General Hospital that evening,

  • you were listed as the patient.

  • Boy, did I have to straighten that one out."

  • Today, Kevin is a loving father

  • and contributing member of society.

  • He speaks openly

  • about the events that day and his depression

  • in the hopes that his story

  • will inspire others.

  • Suicide is not just something I've encountered on the job.

  • It's personal.

  • My grandfather committed suicide by poisoning.

  • That act, although ending his own pain,

  • robbed me from ever getting to know him.

  • This is what suicide does.

  • For most suicidal folks,

  • or those contemplating suicide,

  • they wouldn't think of hurting another person.

  • They just want their own pain to end.

  • Typically, this is accomplished in just three ways:

  • sleep, drugs or alcohol, or death.

  • In my career, I've responded to

  • and been involved in hundreds

  • of mental illness and suicide calls

  • around the bridge.