International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day

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Kevin Briggs is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring him to your campus or organization to speak about mental health.

November 19th is “International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.”  This day is an opportunity celebrated around the world for people affected by suicide loss to gather at local events to find and provide comfort and gain understanding as they share their stories of their loved ones.  I once read that each suicide has what is referred to as a “direct affect” on six people.  This means that at least six people were affected enough to cause them to alter their daily life patterns.  I believe this number is low.  Of course, many, many more people are saddened by the loss.

In his book “Deaths of Man,” E. Schneidman wrote,

“The largest public health problem is neither the prevention of suicide nor the management of suicide attempts but the alleviation of the effects of stress in the survivors whose lives are forever altered.”

Some of you may know this already…my paternal Grandfather lost his life to suicide.  I was not born when this occurred, but his actions prevented me from ever getting to know him, and him, me.  Who knows, we may have been best friends.

Those of us who are suicide loss survivors are no doubt forced into an association that we wish we were never placed in, and really, didn’t even know existed in the first place.  It’s well known that most people who take their life suffer from a diagnosable mental illness.  Even though suicide has been on the rise since 1999, I truly believe that due to our better understanding of mental illness and the continual destigmatization surrounding it, suicide rates will go down.  There are many organizations supporting those who are contemplating suicide, as well as suicide loss survivors.  There are crisis chat lines, crisis texting help and even “apps” for assistance.  Organizations like Active Minds, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and others openly discuss suicide prevention and have information readily available for suicide loss survivors.

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Being that I never met my Grandfather, I will say I don’t suffer the anguish as a parent does who has lost a child, or someone who has lost a good friend or another family member that they have a deep bond with.  During my career with the California Highway Patrol I encountered hundreds of people contemplating suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB).  Most “negotiations” were successful.  But there are also those encounters with people with whom I was not able to help and they did in fact, perish.  These encounters have significantly affected me, pushing my desire to help others to the forefront.

kevin-briggs-suicide-blog-social-mediaIn my discussions with family members from those lost on the GGB and many, many others in my travels speaking about suicide prevention and crisis intervention, I see time and time again the pain left from loss. Some people say this is a ripple effect from the suicide.  I can tell you the devastation is bigger than a ripple.  It is a tsunami, a hurricane that strikes hard and leaves in its wake sadness, grief, unanswered questions and even guilt.  Those left behind wonder what they could have done to prevent the tragedy.  Please believe me when I tell you the action of the family member or friend was not your fault.  The act of suicide is a personal one, not selfish, and in almost every case, not intended to cause pain or anguish to anyone.  The common purpose of why a person dies by suicide generally, is to seek a solution to the intolerable psychological pain they are in. Their crisis management skills have been exhausted and they feel hopeless about their situation.

What can those of us do that are left behind, the suicide loss survivors?  Do our best to live a life of happiness, continual growth and service to your community.  This is what those who have lost their life would wish for you, I’m sure.

I urge everyone to take some time on November 19 to recognize not only suicide loss survivors, but all who have lost their life to suicide.  There are a number of events taking place worldwide.  I’ve listed a few websites below for additional information.

God bless and keep each other safe,

Kevin

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:  https://afsp.org

National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org

Survivors of Suicide Loss: https://www.soslsd.org

Can You Spare a Moment?

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Written by Kevin Briggs, Affinity Speaker with the Active Minds Speakers Bureau and “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

It has been two and a half years since I retired from the California Highway Patrol. Almost all of my professional career has been in government service. When I retired in November 2013 to start Pivotal Points, I really had no idea how to proceed, but I did find out that the following items were a must: business license, web page, meetings with my tax professional, listening to my mentors. Quite overwhelming I would have to say.

I have learned so much since retirement, and have presented around most of the United States, and also in Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany. Presenting on the subject of suicide prevention and intervention has been an awesome and humbling experience for me, and to be honest…a hell of a lot of work.

When it comes to mental health, the question I am asked the frequently is: “How can I help someone who may be suicidal?”  This is a key question that we need to continue to collectively think about.

We should and must continue to educate our societies, families, friends, and loved ones to recognize warning signs that someone has lost so much hope they are do not want to live. Let me share this with you, in 2014 we lost over 42,000 people to suicide–just in the United States. Nearly one in five people suffer from mental illness each year. There are very few people who have not been affected in one way or another by suicide.

Could we have helped those folks?  Possibly.

I have heard time and time again, “I saw the signs,” “They talked about it, but I never thought they would go through with it,” or “I thought someone else would have talked to them.” When you really stop and think about it, writing or speaking about suicide is a cry for help.

So what can we do?

For starters, if you even think someone is suffering, sit down with the individual. Let them know what you’ve seen or heard that makes you think they are suffering or in distress. Remember, listening is the key to understanding.

I have had psychiatrists tell me they wish more peers in their occupation would really listen to their clients. They hear symptoms and prescribe medication. The person comes back in a month and if they feel even slightly better, then the medication is doing its job.

My personal and ongoing treatment with my psychiatrist and counselor have been very good. Both listen intently and together we work out a plan for my continued success.

So back to the question, “What can we do?” In my experience, those who have been suicidal feel very alone, in pain, and think they are a burden to their families. To sit down with that person, tell them how important they are in your life, that their life has value, and you’ll be there for them, is a great start.

In my contacts with several hundred people contemplating suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, loneliness was a main contributing factor. Whether it stemmed from a broken heart, abuse/neglect, aging, social media or feeling rejected by others, social isolation can cause very serious health effects. Chronic loneliness can affect your heart, brain, life expectancy, and as a matter of fact, it is a major contributing factor to depression and alcoholism.

How difficult would it be for you to take a bit of time from your day to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with someone you think may be suffering? What if it was you on the other side?  You probably won’t be able to solve their problems/concerns, but just taking a bit of time to be there, to listen to understand, and to say, “I’m here for you whenever you need me,” may be just what the person needs, and you may have just saved a life.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.

Veterans Day: The Life of an Infantryman

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Briggs Army

Having served in the United States Army from 1981 to 1984, I thought it a privilege when I was asked by Active Minds staff to write a blog concerning Veterans Day. Each year November 11th is Veterans Day, an official United States federal holiday.

This day honors those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and also coincides with other holidays including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are celebrated in other parts of the world, and also marks the anniversary of the end of World War I.

So, what’s military life like?  As an infantryman, here’s a story about a training mission I was on.  It was September of 1983 and I was stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington.  My unit was chosen to go to Panama and attend Jungle Warfare School.  We flew by military plane to Panama and arrived at Fort Sherman to begin our training.

Day one was spent acclimating to the heat and humidity (just one day).  Day two we were in the jungle to begin our training.  This jungle is what they call “triple canopy,” meaning extremely abundant in flora life.  When it rained, it would take several minutes after hitting the tops of the trees until the water would finally drip to the ground.  The sunlight was cast out most of the time, hidden by jungle foliage. Continue Reading

Kevin Briggs: Why I’m with Active Minds

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Briggs standing at GGBMy name is Kevin Briggs and I’m the newest, and probably oldest (52), member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. With that being said, I’ll bet you’re asking yourself, “Why is this 52 year old ex-cop working with Active Minds?” Fair question.

For the better part of 23 years, I worked with the California Highway Patrol. During that time, I spent many years patrolling the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve spoken to hundreds of folks contemplating suicide on that bridge. Many of these people were young adults. Each and every time we “lost” someone, regardless of age, it broke my heart. It was even a harder blow when it was a young person.

Continue Reading