"The wind, the noise, the traffic, the people. It brings me back to that very moment where I nearly jumped," he said.
Unlike his first visit to the bridge on March 11, 2005, in which he intended to end his life, this time Berthia was not alone. Walking beside him was the man who saved him a decade ago in that very same place, retired California Highway Patrol Sergeant Kevin Briggs.
In the years since they first met on the bridge's ledge, the men have become close friends. That fateful day changed the course of both their lives and started them on a path that began with desperation, but has grown into a message of hope for others.
A defining moment
In 2005, Berthia was a desperate 22-year-old struggling with depression for as long as he could remember. He had just lost his job, and was grappling with worries of becoming the new father of a premature baby.
Berthia drove to the Golden Gate Bridge from his home in Oakland that day, intending to jump. Although he grew up in the Bay Area, he had never visited the international icon and had to ask for directions just to find his way to the bridge.
He walked out, climbed over the railing onto the narrow ledge below.
But then he heard the voice of Sgt. Briggs."I approached him very slowly and asked his permission for him to allow me to speak with him," said Briggs, who patrolled the bridge for nearly 17 years. He estimates he's helped hundreds of people decide to come back from the edge.
When Briggs approached Berthia that day, he says he didn't do much talking. "He just talked to me, just kept talking and talking and talking. And I listened most of the time as he spoke," said Briggs. "I think that's what people need most of the time, someone who will listen to them."
For an hour and a half, Briggs listened as the young father talked about this life, his problems, and his first-born daughter, who was just shy of her first birthday at the time. "He kind of made me understand that I need to be here for her," said Berthia. "If nothing else I need to live for her. And that was one of the main reasons that I came back over and gave it another shot."
"I knew that everything that brought me to the bridge was still going be there when I came back over on top of everything else. I knew it was a big choice that I have to make, and I didn't have that much time to make it."
A long road
Sgt. Briggs helped Berthia climb back over the railing that day, but the young man's battle with depression was far from over.
"I struggle every day. It hasn't been easy. There's no magic potion or solution," he said. "I've struggled every single day."Berthia says it wasn't until eight years later that he finally faced what happened on the bridge that day. In May 2013, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recognized Briggs and the CHP with an award for their public service in suicide prevention.
Berthia was the person who presented it. "It took a long time. It took me eight years to even confront that that was me on the bridge," said Berthia. "The more and more that I accept who I am, and know that that wasn't me… and it doesn't define me, it helps me move on." He was invited to present the Lifesavers Award for suicide prevention to Briggs at an event in New York City.
It was the first time the two men had come face to face since Berthia's suicide attempt."That was the first time I ever confronted it," he said. "That was the first time I had ever talked about it in my life, to probably anybody. And I did it in front of a room of about 250 people. I don't know how I did it. It was just something that just needed to be done."
He says the turning point came when he saw the photos of himself standing on the ledge that day through the eyes of the audience."It just blew people away," he said.
"I wanted to hide it. I didn't want to talk about it. The more and more I talk about it, it has helped me and it has helped people."
Once lost, Berthia says he has since found a sense of peace and purpose. He's now a father of three, plans to marry his fiancée, and has become a vocal advocate for suicide prevention.
He hopes that sharing his personal story and struggles will help inspire others suffering from depression to find help. "The biggest hardest thing I had to do was take a step," said Berthia, "and that's the hardest thing anybody had to do is to take the first step."
Berthia says he now focuses on moving forward, instead of lingering on the past to keep himself from going back to the state of mind that led him to the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge in 2005.
Since retiring from the CHP, Briggs has also spoken publicly about his years patrolling the Golden Gate Bridge and the importance of suicide prevention and education.
The two men still stay in touch often and are able to share the ups and downs of their lives with each other. "We are going to stay friends forever," said Briggs. "We're brothers so to speak."
Both Berthia and Briggs are involved in the Out of the Darkness Walks held by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to bring attention to mental illness and suicide prevention.
You can find more resources at the links below:
- Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- AFSP Greater San Francisco Bay Area Chapter - www.afsp.org/sfbayarea
- Out of the Darkness Walks in the Bay Area - www.afsp.org/walksfbayarea
- Out of the Darkness Walks Nationally - www.outofthedarkness.org