Kevin Hines is a suicide prevention advocate who survived an attempt off the Golden Gate Bridge at the age of 19. Suicide is the number two cause of death for 10-34 year olds. As a result of Kevin and his team’s advocacy efforts, a barrier net is being placed along the Golden Gate Bridge in 2021.
September is suicide prevention month and we were honored to speak with Kevin Hines about his survival and recovery. Below we share the first part of our conversation with him. Kevin shares his attempt to take his life, the circumstances that lead him there, and advice to those struggling with mental health concerns.
The Shrink Space: We’d love for you to share your story with our readers.
Kevin Hines: In fluctuations between manic highs and severe depression, as a result of bipolar disorder, I attempted to take my life off the Golden Gate Bridge. Bipolar was the very brain disease both my biological mom and dad had. In the year 2000 at the age of 19 I found myself at the Golden Gate in a world of pain where I believed I had to die and that no one cared for me, even though that was not the truth. I attempted and it was the millisecond that my hands left the rail that I regretted my actions. I would later learn that the majority of those that survive the fall (of the 1% that have in the last 83 years) also had that instantaneous regret from their actions.
Then three miracles happened. In the water a sea lion came to my aide and kept me afloat until the coast guard was able to come. A creature that wasn’t human saved my life. A woman driving by saw me and immediately called the coast guard who brought me to physical safety. Had she not done that I would have died of hypothermia. The ambulance then brought me to the hospital. Here I had a 10.5-hour reconstructive back surgery to replace my three shattered vertebrae with titanium. The singular reason I get to stand, walk and run today is because of the nurses and doctors that saved my back. This was the first and only back surgery of its kind, invented for my situation and now in a medical journal. I was 2mm away from severing my spinal cord. A lot of things brought me here to be alive and well.
Seven months after my attempt I began telling my story. Two clergymen at my school kept begging me to tell my story. I didn’t understand why, and how it could help anyone. But I agreed to speak to 120 kids about my story. I spoke for 45 minutes, I was shaking holding my cane, wearing my back brace over my shirt. Immediately upon finishing my presentation, eight hands go up of these young inquisitive minds. They were thoughtful, compassionate, caring questions, and you could immediately tell there was an impact made. Two weeks later I got 120 letters from those exactly 120 kids. While they were mandated to write the letters, they were not given any parameters on what they could write. Six of them wrote about their active suicidal thinking. It was at that moment I realized this is what the clergy men meant. This story can help people. This was very eye opening for me, because I was so reluctant to share my story. For the story to grow overtime, with my wife and our team, I realized it is about sharing stories about hope, healing and recovery, the key word being recovery. The idea that you can be, stay, and live with recovery while battling ‘brain pain’ as I call it, is what this is about.
The Shrink Space: We hear from a number of students when they are feeling actively suicidal that they feel as if they have no other options. That suicide is the only course of action that will relieve them of their pain. When you say you felt this instantaneous regret after your hands left the rails, in that moment what were you attuned to that you were not previously aware of before you jumped.
Kevin Hines: That is really important because people from all across the world have recounted instantaneous regret from their actions in all means of suicide attempts, when they survive. My understanding of this has been an organic one. We recognize in the moment of crisis after the physical attempt has been made and we are near death, that our thoughts do not need to become our actions. We didn’t see this beforehand. All we saw before was the pain. All we could feel was that the brain pain needed to stop otherwise we couldn’t function. However, when you are in that attempt, in fight or flight mode believing you’re going to die, your survival instincts come forward and you wonder what you’ve just done. I didn’t want to die, but it was too late. You think this is it. It is recognition in that moment that our thoughts don’t need to define, rule and guide our actions.
Now today I take that and I teach people around the world through awareness techniques that when people become suicidal instead of going to attempt that you can turn to the person next to you and say four simple but effective words “I Need Help Now”. The first person may not be the right person, they may not be able to shelter that amount of pain and shoulder that type of “burden” as we call it. But keep working to find that person that will help keep you physically safe and get you to tomorrow. Our teams’ message is to be here one day at a time, 24 hours at a time. That message is seemingly simpler that people having to be here for the rest of their lives. They just need to get the next 24, 48, 72 hours under their belt.
The Shrink Space: Can you share more about the origins of your bipolar disorder diagnosis and your life prior to the day you attempted suicide.
Kevin Hines: It goes back to my biological parents who were both diagnosed with bipolar disorder and coped with alcohol and drugs. That was why I was taken away from them as an infant. I was adopted by a beautiful family and had a beautiful life. Everything seemed to be copacetic. Then at 17 I started to have extreme paranoid delusions, where I believed people were out to get me, hurt me and kill me. I noticed I was being adversarial to people I loved, alienating them, pushing them away and hurting them emotionally. People around me kept asking, what is wrong with Kevin?
But we can go back to 4th grade where I was bullied and physically abused by the students in my class because I didn’t look like them. This really took a toll on me. I’d was picked up and put in a garbage can and told by the 8th graders that’s what I was because I was part black. Or they would hold my arms and punch me in the gut so no one would see bruises. Or they would pull my ears and say whistle and say the N word. That amount of harassment and grotesque brutal racism was horrifying. I’d come home crying, it broke me. Nobody in my world really believed what I was saying because it was Catholic grade school. I suppressed a great deal of the trauma I was dealing with as a kid, I pretended it didn’t exist and silenced my pain for a long time. In 4th grade I started hearing voices, but I never told anyone. This shaped me and was part of the reason why I jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.
People would say Kevin has boundless energy. But you could look back and a doctor would say that was mania. Then I get to 17 and I have a complete mental breakdown on stage in front of 1200 people. I run off stage during a performance that was not even half way done. The director had to get up and play my role, but he was already drunk (that was how he coped watching his shows). He ended up taking his own life. It was devasting, he was like a second father to me. To this day he was my favorite teacher. All these things happening at the same time, very much like the roller coaster of bipolar disorder, I end up at the bridge at 19.
It has been a long and arduous road living in recovery one day at a time. And while I don’t practice everything I preach, I try. I have people around me remind me to reground myself and get back to work. My father taught me the value of hard work my mom taught me to be kind, compassionate, loving, caring, no matter how others treat you. I do my best to embody these teachings to try and help others.
The Shrink Space: Your vulnerability and self-awareness to recognize and ask for support is a great example to all of us. As a champion of suicide prevention can you share any advice to our readers struggling with a mental health concern on how to ask for support when they are experiencing severe ‘brain pain’.
Kevin Hines: This has been massively challenging. I still have relapses where I go back into a great deal of pain. Three to four months ago I was in a psych unit for the 8th time. I admitted myself and got to a safe place, and back to a place where I could have this conversation.
But building a network of people, whether 1, 10, 20 people that can be there for you during times of crisis, is critical. Something else I do today and this was advice I was reminded of recently by my best friend, Jake. We were on set for nine days for our upcoming film, I was having a really hard time, and on the last day we got all our film gear stolen. So I am breaking down a bit and I’m telling Jake, I don’t want to call my friends because I don’t want to burden them. Here I am 38 years old and I am still having these feelings that I can’t call my friends because they have stuff they’ve got to do also.
In this moment Jake reminded me of advice I had given myself years ago. He said call up your friends and say ‘Hey, I’ve got some things that I’ve got to unload, it is going to be heavy. When can we talk?‘ It was a perfect example of how to address an issue of pain, while being cognizant and respectful of your friend’s time and needs. It was a great lesson I needed to relearn from my buddy I’ve known for 20 years. This ties right in line with finding ways through the pain. To be self-aware you have to do a great deal of hard work to get to that place to begin with. This is where I fluctuate, between having self-awareness and having no self-awareness. But my continuous goal is it to be even keel.
For Suicide Prevention Month we will post Part II of our interview with Kevin where we’ll share more on our conversation with him and his daily tips on how he manages his brain pain. If you or someone you know are in immediate crisis call 911 or go to your nearest hospital. Additional resources can be found here.