“Jump now,” said the voice in Kevin Hines’s head. “And I did. I was compelled to die.”
Hines leaped over a rail on the Golden Gate Bridge in September of 2000 and began a freefall that would reach 75 miles per hour on impact. The moment his fingers left the railing, he felt instant regret.
“I thought it was too late, I said to myself, ‘What have I done, I don’t want to die‘,” says Hines, 36. “I realized I made the greatest mistake of my life.”
Hines fell about 240 feet in just four seconds. He crashed feet first into the waters below, crushing spinal vertebrae and breaking an ankle. But he survived.
Now, Hines travels the world to speak about suicide prevention and mental health, telling his story to help others stay alive.
Telling His Story
Hines details his story in the new documentary that he produced, Suicide: The Ripple Effect, opening across the United States in over 200 locations on March 14th. He has also authored a memoir, Cracked Not Broken, Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt. Hines’ story is definitely resonating—he has over 15,000 followers on Twitter.
“My goal is to try to instill hope in at least one individual,” Hines says, “so that one individual says, ‘Maybe I can stay here, maybe there are tools to fight this.’” Hines helps suicidal people he has met in one-on-one situations—through social media and at his speeches. He has helped save numerous lives.
One of the lives Hines has saved belongs to the husband of Lorena Stephens of Massachusetts. Stephens recently wrote an email to Hines after her frequently suicidal husband heard him speak. “My husband has chronic suicidal thoughts and paranoia just like Kevin. He never thought anyone could relate to him and has tried to die by suicide several times in his life. The change in my husband since hearing Kevin speak is nothing short of a miracle. Kevin gave him hope. Kevin showed him that he wasn’t alone,” Stephens says. “It was like God sent him to us at a time when my husband needed it the most.”
The Ripple Effect cites research that estimates that 115 people will be affected by a single suicide. In the film, there are interviews with people directly affected by Hines’s suicide attempt—his teary father, his sister, and the coast guard officer who had pulled 57 dead people and one live man—Hines—from the waters of San Francisco Bay after jumping.
Since the Fall
The instant regret of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge did not result in instant mental health recovery once Hines survived. He now works daily, and diligently, to manage continued symptoms that can include depression and hearing voices. He has visited mental hospitals several times since his jump. Additionally, Hines takes medication and sees a therapist. He does at least 23 minutes of vigorous exercise each morning, which leads to a better mood. He eats a brain-healthy diet; does daily light box therapy; meditates and uses music therapy. For more information on his plan, click here.
Most importantly, when depression, psychosis, paranoia, hallucinations, hopelessness or suicidal thoughts return—and they do—Hines reaches out to people who comprise a close support network that he calls his “personal protectors.”
One of Hines’ major personal protectors is his wife of 12 years, Margaret. The couple met 14 years ago during Hines’ third involuntary stay in a psychiatric hospital. Hines says that Margaret plays a big role in keeping him mentally stable.
When the bad feelings return, Hines says, “I always tell someone who loves me and who cares about me and who empathizes with me,” he says. “I have one request of people who are currently facing the struggle, who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Hines continues, “remember the light is there, the hope is there, you have to find a way to make it and find a way to move forward until you reach the hope.”
Hines hopes that the film motivates people to take charge of their mental health.
“When you can find the ability to fight for your wellbeing, you can change your outcome,” he says. “As my father used to tell me, nothing good ever came without hard work. That is one of the things that turned my life around.”
A Deadly Place
Since it was erected in 1937, more than 1700 people are estimated to have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, and just 25 are known to have survived, according to Robert Olson of The Centre for Suicide Prevention in Calgary, Canada.
Olson has noted that the Golden Gate is a particularly lethal means of killing oneself: While the average survival rate of bridge deaths is 15%, those off the Golden Gate is just 4%.
In the film, Hines highlights a major mission for which he and many others are fighting: the go-ahead from politicians for the installation of a safety net along the bridge to prevent suicides.
Hines never wants anyone to experience what he did almost 18 years ago when he took a bus to the bridge with voices in his head telling him “You must die, jump now,” he recalls.
“It was the most horrid, emotional, turmoil even I’ve ever experienced, and I could not control myself.”
As Hines landed after the freefall, he shattered and crushed three vertebrae.
“When I resurfaced I was trying to stay afloat, thinking, ‘I am going to drown.’ As I was bobbing up and down in the water, I was saying ‘I don’t want to die, God, I made a mistake.’”
A sea lion, Hines says, kept pushing him above the water’s surface until the Coast Guard rescued him. Doctors surgically repaired Hines’ physical injuries and after four weeks, he entered psychiatric care at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco, the first of seven in-patient stays to deal with depression, paranoia, and hallucinations.
During that first stay, Hines met a priest who encouraged him to share his story. “The thing that changed my life forever,” he says of the meeting.
Sharing His Story
About seven months after the jump, a hesitant Hines gave his first talk, to 120 seventh and eighth graders. “I was freaking out,” he says. “I was a mess.”
Two weeks later, the children sent him letters. Several of the kids told Hines his talk made a difference and that they received the help they needed.
“A story helped them decide to be honest about their pain,” says Hines. “When that happened, I said to my father, ‘Dad we have to do this, any way, anywhere we can.’ This is how it all started.”
Hines hopes that each time he tells his story, the hope he conveys to the suffering will enable them to open up, to realize, ‘I can help myself today,’” Hines says.
He urges anyone who sees someone suffering and upset, like he was that day on the Golden Gate Bridge, or whom they suspect may be having suicidal thoughts, to reach out.
This suicidal person “needs to hear what I needed to hear. That we care about you, your life does matter, and that all we want is for you to stay,” he says. “If someone had looked at me on that bridge or on that bus and said that to me, I would have begged for help.”
Hines urges anyone struggling now with suicide ideation, before you take that action, to call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Interview with Kevin Hines