Kevin Hines is one of just 39 people to have survived a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge, and is one of just five to regain the ability to stand and walk. He recently spoke on suicide prevention at Ohio Northern University. (Provided photo)

By SARA ARTHURS

Staff Writer

ADA — The instant after he attempted suicide, the then-19-year-old Kevin Hines knew he’d made a terrible mistake. It’s 19 years later, and Hines travels the country imploring others to stay alive — and telling them he’s glad he did.

Hines opened his recent remarks at Ohio Northern University by calling for a moment of silence for those who had died by suicide, saying he had lost eight people he loved. He said these deaths stemmed from “unrelenting, lethal emotional pain.” It isn’t because of something others in their life did or didn’t do — it has nothing to do with you. When Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000, it was not because of his family. “It was because of one thing, my brain.”

Hines, who was adopted after going through the foster care system, said his birth parents also struggled with mental health issues and addiction. If your brain has “nothing but consistent trauma” while you are an infant, “something’s got to give,” Hines said.

He has bipolar disorder and had issues with depression as well as mania. He believed he was worthless and “my family’s greatest burden.” At 19, he was “so broken” and was hearing voices, which told him to go to the bridge.

“And I did, but I didn’t want to,” he said.

Hines recalled trying to tell his father early that morning what was going through his mind — but the voice in his head was louder.

His mental illness also made him paranoid, and he believed people were out to hurt him.

“Do me a solid,” Hines told the audience. Even if you’re the toughest person in the world, “Never again silence your pain. Your pain is valid.” And if you do silence it, it festers and grows, he said.

Hines said he wishes he knew then, “My thoughts do not have to become my actions.” After all, he said, if all your thoughts became actions, how many of those present would be in jail for road rage?

On the bus to the Golden Gate Bridge he was crying, then yelling at the voices in his head. The other people on the bus didn’t react, except one person who said, “What the hell’s wrong with that kid?”

Hines said a suicide attempt is not selfish — “To be selfish is to KNOW you’re about to hurt somebody and do it anyway.” In his case he didn’t know, as he was overwhelmed by the pain he was in.

He said the millisecond he left the rail he felt “instant regret” — and 100 percent certainty that he had made the greatest mistake.

Just 39 people have survived the fall from the Golden Gate Bridge, and Hines is one of just five to regain the ability to stand and walk, he said.

“I get to be here,” he said. “And getting to be here, no matter the pain you are in, is a gift.”

He shattered several vertebrae and lost the use of his legs for some time. He underwent intense surgery, and lives with chronic physical pain as a result of his injuries.

But, he said, he’s grateful for “everything I get to do, ’cause I almost couldn’t.” And, he told the audience, he is grateful for “each and every one of you.”

Hines said if he had died at 19, he would never have met his wife — his “very best friend” — or been godfather to his nieces or nephews.

“You are here for a purpose,” and maybe you will save someone else’s life someday, he said. “So please stay.”

Hines went through several stays in the psychiatric ward after his suicide attempt. In addition to receiving medical care, he also learned over time to take care of himself, from listening to relaxing music that helped him sleep better, to eating better food and staying active.

Hines said “that hope and that light is always there” — if you don’t see it, it means you haven’t walked far enough to reach it.

After activism by Hines and his family, a net to prevent suicides is being constructed around the bridge. It will be complete in January 2021.

Hines and his wife started the Kevin and Margaret Hines Foundation. Hines shares videos and other resources on suicide prevention and mental health on his website. He said it’s important to “normalize the conversation.”

After events like the one at ONU, people come up to talk with him. Hines said he hears a lot of difficult stories — people who have experienced abuse and neglect, sometimes at a young age.

“And some of them are absolutely horrific. … It’s devastating,” he said.

But people also write to him saying his videos have touched them.

At a time when suicides are increasing, Hines said in our society there is a “lack of resilience.” And while social media can do a lot of good, it can also do a lot of harm — allowing hurtful or racist comments to spread more quickly. Hines said cyberbullying is also particularly difficult, because the person being bullied believes that their experience is going out to the entire world.

And young people, he said, can fail to see that somewhere down the line it won’t matter. If you’re a 35-year-old with kids of your own, you’re probably not worrying about something someone said to you when you were 14.

Now 37, Hines said life is very different than when he was 19. He still has a lot of physical pain, but that is “part of the deal.” And, he said, he’s not “going to let it destroy me.”

If he is having a difficult day, he asks his wife for a pep talk. And he said he is lucky to have a support network, but there are resources available for people who do not.

“I know that I deserve to be here,” Hines said.

Hines came to ONU through a Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant through the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which also brought Marcey Bell to campus as a mental health counselor and outreach coordinator.

Bell said often, if someone is concerned someone they love is considering suicide, they are “afraid to bring up that word,” worrying that they will put the thought into their head. But this is a myth, she said. In fact, it’s important to have the conversation. “Ask,” Bell said. “Ask the question.”

Just listen and be nonjudgmental. And, she said, don’t minimize a student’s pain, as “The last thing that a kid wants to hear is somebody say, ‘Oh, that’s not that important!'”

Going through a breakup in your teens does feel like “the end of the world” in a way it might not for an older adult, she said. Validate the person’s feelings, she said. Bell might say, “This must feel terrible. I have no doubt that it does.”

She said people may assume, “Oh, college is the best time of your life!” But homesickness, trouble making new friends, dealing with roommates, and fear of student loan debt after college can be concerns. Testing and exams can also be stressful, she said.

“They’re so concerned about their grades, which is good,” but that means if they’re starting to fail a course, “it feels like the end of the world.”

Then there are romantic relationships. Bell said some students try to maintain long-distance relationships from before they came to campus, but the stress of college can put pressure on the relationship. Or, students may jump into relationships that are not “the healthiest.” And when a relationship ends — regardless of how good it was — they may wonder, “Why did they break up with me? What’s wrong with me?”

Also, biology is a factor. Certain illnesses, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, often first occur among young adults between 19 and 24. So, Bell said, counselors on campus may notice symptoms that are showing up for the first time and can refer the student to a doctor.

ONU counseling staff are educating faculty on warning signs, and what to do if they have a student who they think might have a mental health issue.

People tend to be “afraid,” Bell said. “We kind of tiptoe around mental health. And it’s so important to just start a conversation.”

And she said she has seen people get better.

The crisis line for Allen, Auglaize and Hardin counties is 800-567-HOPE (4673). In Hancock County, it’s 1-888-936-7116. To reach the Ohio Crisis Text Line, text “4hope” to 741741. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494

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Twitter: @swarthurs

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