Kevin Hines shares his unlikely story of survival with Vail area audience
Creator of ‘Suicide: The Ripple Effect’ joins a local panel to address the tough issues surrounding suicide awareness
Editor’s note: This article discusses death by suicide and suicidal ideation, and some people might find it triggering. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact your physician, go to your local emergency room, call Eagle Valley Behavioral Health’s 24/7 crisis line at 970-306-4673 or Colorado Crisis Services at 844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255.
Tales of amazing feats of survival are not uncommon in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, but few are as intense as the one shared with a local audience on Thursday via Zoom as part of the Vail Daily’s Longevity Project.
In a keynote address following a virtual panel discussion featuring local behavioral health experts, award-winning filmmaker and speaker Kevin Hines told an audience the story of how he “sprinted forward and catapulted” off the Golden Gate Bridge on Sept. 25, 2000.
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What happened next has been studied by doctors and physicists, but no examination has been as thorough Hines’ own, who said during the 220-foot fall he had sudden change of mind, which brought on a new will to live upon hitting the water. That will would become the determining factor in his survival in the minutes following his jump as he swam to stay alive. In addition to his will to live, luck, youth, strength, public services and a humorous fear — when told by Hines — of sharks played a role in keeping him alive.
“Thirty-five individuals in 85 years have survived that fall. Of those 39 individuals, 26 have come forward, just like me, to say they all had the same instant regret that I did,” he said. “Because they recognized in the moment that they thought was too late that their thoughts did not have to become their actions.”
Hines continues to struggle with bipolar disorder. He told the virtual audience on Thursday that in the years that have followed, he learned the importance of reaching out for help if a crisis comes up — even if it’s from random strangers.
His key message: “Suicide is not the answer to a problem; it is the problem.”
It was a takeaway that was examined earlier in the evening by a panel of Vail-area experts who looked at mental health and substance abuse from a local lens.
Asking the tough questions
Erin Ivie, the executive director of SpeakUp, ReachOut, the valley’s suicide prevention coalition, said depression can be identified through changes in behavior.
“If you see a big change in behavior from someone, that’s a big clue,” she said.
Financial distress, loss of a cherished relationship and loss of independence are often seen in cases of depression that lead to suicide, Ivie said. Loss of independence is usually associated with incarceration, but it can also come in the form of aging, she said, “if someone is no longer able to do the things they once did.”
Ivie said the two basics things that many warning signs have in common is the person is lonely or feels they are becoming a burden.
“These things don’t necessarily mean that somebody is thinking of suicide, but it’s absolutely worth having a conversation,” Ivie said. “’These are the things I’m seeing.’ ‘I care about you.’ ‘Tell me more.’ And then once you have them share with you what those things are and what their story is, you’ll have a better understanding of how you can support them.”
Hines said we shouldn’t fear asking the “blunt, honest and direct questions” as well.
“Three questions: ‘Are you thinking of killing yourself?’ ‘Have you made plans to take your life?’ ‘Or do you have the means,’” Hines said. “And following that up with, ‘I know this is an awkward conversation to have, and I know that it’s hard to answer this question honestly, but I’m asking you as your friend or loved one, to tell the truth in this situation, to help keep you safe, because I care about you and I love you and you’re not a burden, you are cared for, you are loved, you do matter, and these questions are important to me that you answer them honestly, so we can make sure you get to a safe place.’”
Some of the panel discussion was focused inward. Ivie told the audience that one of the panelists was at a higher risk of suicide simply as a function of that person’s line of work.
People involved in the criminal justice system are indeed at a higher risk for suicide, Avon Police Chief Greg Daly concurred, and in responding to grief-ridden situations, police must be guardians of their own mental health in addition to being guardians of the community, he said.
Daly said his officers now undergo mental health wellness checks, where, “even if they go in and talk about football for an hour,” the officers must talk to a mental health professional as a regular part of the job. Daly likened it to a mental health version of the obstacle course the officers must complete twice per year to verify they are in good physical health.
Chris Lindley, the chief population health officer for Vail Health and the executive director of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, said everyone should check in with a mental health professional once per year along with a physical doctor.
“Exercise daily, seven days per week — whatever your movement is, do it, as long as you’re doing something it’s great,“ he said. ”See your primary care provider every year. See your behavioral health therapist every year. If you have issues on the physical health side or the behavioral health side, work with your providers to address those.”
Professionals and the person next to you
A recent increase in services in Eagle County now makes it easier to see a mental health professional. Behavioral health has been integrated across the primary care setting, with 19 new behavioral health providers added or coming to Colorado Mountain Medical’s primary care unit.
Many service upgrades have been made possible by a tax on marijuana passed in 2017 that contributes $500,000-$600,000 annually to mental health services in Eagle County. Local suicide prevention group SpeakUp, ReachOut was formed with zero full-time employees and now has four.
Eagle Valley Behavioral Health has distributed $7 million in community efforts this year, and Olivia’s Fund now allows community members to get up to six free sessions of behavioral health care.
The Vail Mind Center was formed less than three years ago and now has 17 therapists on staff to help children with early intervention services. The psychological assessments provided at Vail Mind Center’s Edwards facility save local families hours in driving and months on wait lists — which can be crucial for children, said Casey Wolfington with Eagle Valley Behavioral Health.
Vail Health has added three full-time psychiatrists to its staff, two of which are also board certified to handle adolescent clients. The hospital is currently seeking approvals to build “the first psychiatric hospital in almost 20 years in the state,” Lindley said. The psychiatric hospital aims to become a collaborative effort for “the first community mental health center designation in the state in 40 years,” that will bring more funding for suicide prevention and education to groups like SpeakUp, ReachOut.
But amid all this, an important service we must not overlook is each other, Hines said. In the years that followed his bridge jump, he created an emergency mental health plan for the times when he has suicidal ideation.
“Every time I’m suicidal, I turn to the closest person to me, whoever they are, and I say, ‘I need help now,’” Hines said. “I tell them exactly why I need help, what’s going on in my mind and how long I’ve been dealing with these things. And they’ve always got me the help I need.”
Hines shared a story of being in an airport and sharing his thoughts with airport security.
“They immediately did a threat assessment, and they were worried for the safety of the passengers, but they took me to a back room, they assessed that I was not a danger to anyone else — that I was only a danger to myself — and they got me the help I needed,” he said. “Because I asked for help.”