Conference celebrates recovery, legacy of growth

Discussion covers stigma of mental health and how it permeates local communities.


Denis Perez/The Advocate

Health and Human Services major Sandra Simon recives words of support form suicide attempt survivor Kevin Berthia during the May 17 Psychosocial Spring Conference.

By Cindy Pantoja, Editor-in-Chief

The Health and Human Services program of Contra Costa College celebrated 20 years of recovery health and transformation with a Psychosocial Spring Conference on May 17 in Fireside Hall.

The “From Darkness to Light” lunch and panel discussion focused on depression, the stigma of mental health and how it permeates local communities.

Health and Human services department Chairperson Aminta Mickles said the success of this program is due to the fact that most people who join HHS have a gift to listen. They also take that skill out the classroom and use it to help people in need of support.

“It is important to have a family connection and the people in this program get to connect with one another like a family,” Mickles said.

After greetings and a welcome song by HHS alumni Raymond Smith, the audience welcomed guest speaker Kevin Berthia to the podium to share his journey toward mental wellness.

Berthia survived a suicide attempt and now serves as suicide prevention advocate. He was born with a genetic depression disorder which was inherited from his biological mother.

In 2005, at the age of 22, he attempted to take his own life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.

The focus of Berthia’s conversation was that most people with depression are not aware even of mental illness and most of them haven’t heard about depression before their first suicide attempt.

“At 19 years old, I was a smart kid. I always knew I was ten years ahead of myself,” Berthia said. “I watched the news every single day and I never hear the word depression — I never heard the word mental health or suicide.”

One day Berthia woke up in a hospital chained to a bed because he tried to cut his wrists with a knife. He said he was convinced that he’d just had “a bad day,” but never attributed this episode to depression.

He eventually sought the help of five different therapists who prescribed him six different medications, but he never accepted the root of his behavior was his adoption and the feeling of being a failure.

Depression didn’t come into his sphere until the day he attempted to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Berthia shared with the audience that the only reason he didn’t leap from the narrow cord of the bridge was because the first responder who saved his life talked and listened to him for 96 minutes.

“When somebody is in a dark place, that person only wants to be understood. Sometimes the greatest thing you have to realize is that support is going to be silence. That’s how important listening is.” He said.

Once Betrhia completed his talk, the audience joined him for a Q & A session.

By this time, the audience was engaged and the attendees were so inspired by the speaker’s life story that they began to share their struggles with mental health and depression.

HHS club President Kristin Lobos said Contra Costa College has programs that provide mental health support to students, but more resources are needed.

“We need more training for faculty and more programs that focus on emergencies because right now you can make an appointment in the Wellness Center (on campus), but they can only book so many per day,” Lobos said.

After sharing stories, the HHS program provided some appetizers where the crowd congregated in Fireside Hall to share more stories of battling and defeating inner demons.

“This event was pretty awesome, we got some pointers about depression. I can relate with some things,” Health and Human Services major Jenifer Odle said.  “We all learned to lend a listening ear.”

The 2019 Psychosocial Conference culminated with a discussion panel centered on Recovery, Change and Transformation featuring three HHS alumni Mady Willie, Kathy Insixiengmay and Jamie Miller.