On Tuesday, April 28, Austin police officers responded to a report of a man on the ledge of the Congress Avenue bridge, contemplating suicide.
According to reports, the unidentified Austinite stood on the edge of the bridge for between one and a half and two hours as police tried to talk him down off the ledge.
Despite the dire uncertainty at the beginning of the encounter, the individual eventually climbed back over the barricade and choose life over death after officers neutralized the situation.
One of the responding officers was Officer Justin Berry, one of the Austin Police Department’s (APD) mental health-trained officers who also happens to be running for Texas House District 47.
“You see what that word says on that building over there to your left? It says hope,” Austin Police Officer Justin Berry could be heard telling the man on the bodycam footage.
At approximately 9:40 p.m., he received the call of the possible jumper.
While he was neither the only officer on the scene nor the only to engage with the man, Berry engaged in the majority of the dialogue.
“You could tell [the man] wanted to live, but he felt like he had nothing left to live for,” Berry told The Texan.
The APD is keeping the man’s identity and circumstances confidential to preserve his privacy. Officer Berry did say, however, that the man agreed to Berry’s offer to connect him with help.
With the increased isolation and economic anxieties thrust upon the country from coronavirus, depression levels are increasing among swathes of the population.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 45 percent of the country is feeling their mental health has either been majorly or minorly impacted by the virus and its effects.
One federal hotline for emotional distress saw its traffic jump over 1,000 percent in April compared to the same month in 2019.
Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, a Texas non-profit, estimated that — based on comparisons from the Great Recession — each percentage point increase in unemployment would result in 60 additional suicides.
The same analysis also found that with each five percent unemployment rate increase, an additional 425 people would die from a drug overdose.
It is not clear what specifically drove the man to consider such a dire action, and Berry could only share that “a variety of different things” plagued him.
Upon arriving on the scene, Berry immediately began building rapport with the man and they traded personal anecdotes with one another.
In the bodycam footage, Berry can be heard pleading with the man that “I can tell you are trying to make amends, that you’re trying to make things right in your world.”
“As a police officer, that’s all I want from people, to live a good life,” Berry continued.
While Berry said there were unsure moments — marked physically by heavy breathing, a bad sign according to Berry — eventually the rapport that had been built deescalated the situation.
“This was as raw and emotional of an experience you feel on the job,” said Berry.
With vast amounts of confusion thrown into the equation as local and state edicts fall into conflict with one another, the job has been even more difficult to navigate for Berry and his fellow first responders.
“We’ve been asked to enforce ordinances that are not the norm, that are not what people are used to following, and none of it has any case law backing it up,” Berry emphasized, “and so we’re forced to constantly stay on our toes deciding what and how to enforce while not losing sight of the human side to it.”
This, Berry stressed, has put him and the rest of APD in an awkward position balancing “public health and respecting the oath we swore to uphold.”
“That weighs very heavily on other officers I speak to, and it weighs very heavily on me.”
Berry’s harrowing experience is testimony that as health stress compounds on top of economic stress, providing an outlet can indeed save a life.
“The key to it all is being sincere and genuine with those who need your help, even if it’s as simple as lending an ear.”
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.