Kevin Hines calls the moment he stepped off the Golden Gate Bridge, plunging 220 feet into the San Francisco Bay, the most terrifying and painful experience of his entire life. “It’s the worst feeling in the world when you’ve lost all hope,” said Hines, who broke both legs and several vertebrae in the fall.
But the aftermath has been quite the opposite. Hines survived, kept afloat by a sea lion until a rescue boat arrived. And in his attempt to die he found a reason to live as he made it his life’s work to educate people about mental illness, preventing suicide and how to achieve mental health.
Hines, recounted his story in the book “Cracked Not Broken,” at the 2016, Sun Valley Wellness Festival, which was being held May 27-30 in Sun Valley.
“It’s so rewarding to have someone hear my story and get up and say, ‘I have bipolar disorder, and my Mom doesn’t even know’ and have the mother sitting right next to the kid,” said Hines. “To watch people come out of their shell and tell the truth and then go and get help is amazing.”
Hines was removed from his home by child protective services when he was 9 months because both parents were drug addicts. A “wonderful” couple adopted him, giving him what he called a beautiful childhood. But at 17 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
He fought with himself for the next two years, trying to understand—then deny–the paranoia, manic highs, deep depression, hallucinations and panic attacks. And at 19 he jumped after hearing voices telling him he had to die.
It has not been a “happy ever after” life since he survived the jump. He still grapples with paranoia, delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, depression and mania. And he still occasionally has suicidal thoughts.
But, he says, he’s managed to hang in there by eating nutritious foods that feed his brain, in addition to his body, exercising and meditating every day and taking the medication his doctor prescribed for him.
Artistic endeavors, sleeping well, abstaining from drugs and alcohol that cloud and alter the mind, cognitive behavioral therapy, listening to calming music before bed and blue light therapy can also help, he said.
“We take care of our physical body but we forget to take care of our brain’s health. And the brain controls the function of all the other organs so why wouldn’t we openly talk about it and take care of it, just as we take care of our hearts and livers and lungs?” he said.
When Hines gets suicidal thoughts, he asks for help, rather than turning inward and remaining silent as he used to.
“You don’t have to feel that you are alone—ask for help from someone you know will have your back and help you get to a safer place, whether that means simply talking until the thoughts pass going to a hospital,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a few weeks ago that the rate of suicide rose sharply over the past decade and a half, due in part to a challenging economy and rising abuse of opiates. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the nation and the third leading cause of death among youth ages 10 through 24.
Suicide rates rose in 2014 and the first half of 2015, unlike heart disease and cancer. The rate tripled for girls ages 5 to 14 and the rate for women rose faster than for men.
It’s well documented that suicide rates go down when you limit access to means of suicide. Hines said. Suicide rates went down when manufacturers changed the mechanism in gas ovens to prevent people using those to kill themselves. Lives have been saved by putting nets on bridges and buildings. And some European doctors only dispense a day’s worth of prescription pills at a time to prevent overdoses.
We need to prioritize mental health care and make it affordable, said Hines, who spoke to Congress alongside former Congressman Patrick Kennedy in support of the Mental Health Parity Bill.
“Why is it that the government doesn’t up and stop suicide when it’s the No. 1 killer of our youth? If this was heart disease or cancer, we’d be running like crazy to find the funding to solve the crisis. The government needs to realize that every time there is a suicide, every time we have to put an individual into a psychiatric hospital or jail because of mental health crisis, it costs money. Prioritize mental health care and suicide prevention and we will save millions,” he said.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone if they’re in danger of committing suicide—you’re not putting the idea in someone’s mind but, rather, giving them permission to talk about their pain, which can be cathartic, Hines said.
“When someone you know is dealing with really great pain, one of the things you can do is offer a listening and empathetic ear—you don’t even have to say anything,” he said.
“These people have so much brain pain they don’t want to be here anymore. So much pain they feel they’re a burden to their family and friends. So much pain they feel they’re useless, worthless. So much pain they feel they have to die. Sometimes a warm embrace, a hand on the shoulder, a calm tone, a smile, is all that’s needed to help an individual realize how valuable they are, how important they are, how loved they are.”
Hines’ story was featured in the 2006 documentary “The Bridge,” which is available at amazon.com. It features interviews with the families and friends of the departed, as well as those who have attempted suicide.
He is producing a new documentary called “Suicide: The Ripple Effect.” It focuses on the effect the suicide of the 41,000-plus people each year has on friends and family.
I always tell people, ‘Your pain might end if you take your life but there is pain transferred onto everyone left behind who loved you for the rest of eternity. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s just a sad situation. “I tell people: Life is a gift. That’s why they call it the present. Cherish it always.”
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN CRISIS, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Press 1 if you’re an active duty military veteran.
Or, call 911 or the local Crisis Hotline at 208-788-3596. The website is TheCrisisHotline.org.
Story by Karen Bossick