Survivor calls suicide attempt ‘the greatest mistake of my life’
Mental health advocate Kevin Hines to share his experience at annual Longevity Project event
The Summit Daily News
“It was the single worst action of my entire life,” Kevin Hines said. “The millisecond my hands left the rail, I had an instantaneous regret for my actions. It’s 100% recognition that I had just made the greatest mistake of my life, and it was too late.”
Hines is one of fewer than 40 people who have survived a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge and one of fewer than 10 who have regained full mobility. Since his suicide attempt in 2000, Hines has built a career on sharing his story in the hope that others struggling with mental health issues find solace in the fact that they aren’t alone and that help awaits them.
But it’s a lifetime of seeking help that has gotten Hines to where he is today.
Born and raised in San Francisco, Hines said his mental health issues stem from a traumatic infancy, in which he had a difficult home life and his brother died. Hines said he developed abandonment issues and a severe detachment disorder.
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At 9 months old, he was fostered by the Hines family, which later adopted him when he was 4 years old. Hines credits them with saving his life.
“They gave me a future and stability and opportunity,” he said. “Growing up in the Hines household was a beautiful thing. We wanted nor needed for anything, all because of how hard (they) worked.”
In his new home, life was much more stable than with his birth parents, who he said sold drugs just to put a roof over their heads. But the lingering effects of his previous environment coupled with genetics continued to impact Hines as he grew up.
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Throughout the years, Hines had ups and downs and said mental health issues were always present. At 17, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder — the same diagnosis he said his birth parents received — with psychotic features. Hines said he had manic highs and dark depressions, paranoid delusions, hallucinations and panic attacks.
Before his diagnosis, Hines called himself an eclectic teenager who had many interests. He was a skilled wrestler, played on the football team and participated in his school’s theater department.
“I really enjoyed life, and I was thoroughly excited for what was to come,” he said. “And then at 17 1/2, it all kind of came crashing down, and I developed a mental illness.”
Hines said his family started to pick up on signs that he might have a mental illness, but they didn’t know what to do about it.
“I was not telling anybody how severe my symptoms were, so I would see things and hear things that no one else could see or hear,” Hines said. “I kept it to myself. I would have paranoid delusions, and I wouldn’t tell anybody.”
Shortly after an outburst at school, Hines said his mother took him to see his first psychiatrist. Hines said the next two years were a “rocky road” as he tried to find medicine and a dosage that could help.
Leading up to the moment on the bridge, Hines said he felt self-loathing and heard voices telling him he had to die. On Sept. 25, 2000, at 19 years old, Hines jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge.
After the U.S. Coast Guard pulled him from the water with a broken back and other serious injuries, Hines began a long, intensive road to recovery, both physically and mentally.
In the 21 years since his attempt, he has continued to seek out care with a new psychiatrist. He’s also been admitted into a psychiatric hospital nine times, with the latest stay in 2019.
About six months after his attempt, Hines began publicly speaking to others about his experience. The first time was at his former school, where he spoke to more than 100 seventh and eighth grade kids.
“I still had my back brace and my cane,” Hines said about injuries he suffered in the fall. “I read a speech from the page, dropping page by page to the floor, crying and shaking the whole time. It was very raw.”
What: The Longevity Project with speaker Kevin Hines, a suicide attempt survivor and mental health advocate. This talk has been moved from an in-person event to a virtual Zoom event and will be preceded by a discussion about mental health with Avon Police Chief Greg Daly, SpeakUp ReachOut Executive Director Erin Ivie, Vail Valley Mind Center Founder Paul Graf, Vail Health Chief Population Health Officer Chris Lindley, and Eagle Valley Behavioral Health Community Behavioral Health Director Casey Wolfington.
When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thurs., Sept. 23
Where: Virtual Zoom
To log on: VailDaily.com/longevity
When he was finished, the students asked him questions, and he felt like he made an impact. That impact was evident when he got a call shortly thereafter from the school asking him to visit again. Awaiting him were 120 letters from students thanking him for presenting. Some students even wrote that they were having thoughts of suicide, and those kids were screened and given the help they needed.
It is a moment that sticks with Hines years later.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “It was the first time I spoke, and it had that kind of an impact. My dad looked at me when he read the letters, and he said, ‘Kevin, we have to do this however, wherever possible.’ And we never stopped.”
By 2008, Hines turned his speaking engagements into a full-time job. He stays busy by traveling the country speaking about mental health and his personal experience. He continues to hear from audience members about how sharing his story has kept them from attempting suicide and encouraged them to seek help. By 2017, he was speaking more than 300 times per year.
In addition to coordinating speaking engagements, he has written a memoir titled “Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt” and produced a documentary called “Suicide: The Ripple Effect.” He’s currently working on a new graphic novel called “Hope Dealers” as well as producing a docuseries called “The Journey.”
Hines is speaking at a virtual event capping The Longevity Project starting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23. Tickets are free. For tickets and more information, visit VailDaily.com/longevity.