Health & Fitness

He jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and recounts his story to help others

Exactly one year after Kevin Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge into the San Francisco Bay, his father picked him up from college to go for a drive. As they turned onto Presidio Avenue, Hines, then 20, realized their destination.

“I said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to go.’ And he said, ‘No, we have to; you have to find closure,’” Hines recalled.

The pair walked to the spot where Hines had launched himself over the railing, miraculously becoming the 26th survivor of the 220-foot drop that has claimed more than 1,600 lives. He said a prayer and dropped a flower into the water below.

“The misconception is that we don’t all have something going on,” said Hines, 34, now a suicide prevention speaker and author of Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt (Roman & Littlefield Publishers). “Everyone inside is having their own inner dialogue. If you’re completely hopeless and you can’t get out your deepest pains, they are going to crush you. I try to get people to think about finding someone to talk to.”

Hines will be the keynote speaker at a Feb. 21 benefit luncheon for the Key Clubhouse of South Florida, a vocational program for people with mental illness. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features, Hines hopes to inspire others with his recovery story.

“He is living healthy with a mental illness, and I believe that gives hope for others living with a mental illness who are looking to improve the quality of their lives,” said Debra Webb, the Clubhouse’s executive director. “We believe people with mental illness can recover through work.’’

What have I just done: God please save me.

Kevin Hines, his first thought after jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 90 percent of people who have died by suicide experienced mental illness. Robin Cole, president of NAMI in Miami-Dade, thinks the county lacks coordination between crisis stabilization units in hospitals and rehabilitation programs.

“In mental health, especially with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder [and] depression, recovery doesn't happen in 24 hours at a crisis unit,” she said. “Recovery is over a long period of time through many supportive services.”

Hines began experiencing extreme paranoia, hallucinations and depression at age 17 after being taken off epilepsy medication that also acted as a mood stabilizer. Several psychotic episodes later, he felt he was a burden on his family and had no choice but to kill himself. While first worried about his family discovering his plan, on the bus ride to the bridge he desperately wanted someone — anyone — to stop him. But no one asked the sobbing teenager what was wrong, and after photographing a tourist, he hurled himself off the railing. Instant regret followed.

‘What have I just done, God please save me,’” he recalled thinking before hitting the water feet first.

A woman driving on the bridge who saw him jump contacted the Coast Guard, and Hines floated in the water until being rescued. While the fall shattered his vertebrae, he suffered minimal permanent damage. But at a psychiatric ward shortly after jumping, he faced suicide again — this time as an active bystander — when grabbing a knife from a girl trying to cut herself.

“Seeing that inability for her to not self-harm, it broke my heart,” he said.

Over the next four years, Hines struggled with suicidal impulses. In college, his behavior turned manic, and he was hospitalized several times.

But then he met a woman who was visiting his psychiatric ward to see her cousin, a catatonic patient he had been getting to know. Their relationship aided his recovery. Today, she’s his wife.

“I found my strength when I found that deep connection with her,” he said. “For a person who deals with mild to extreme paranoia every day, trust has always been a huge problem with me, and I get through those trust tissues with someone who is trying to help me.”

At his talks, people often share their struggles with him. There was the letter from a solider in Japan, an audience member who admitted to having a mental illness and high school athletes who hugged him in tears after he spoke.

“I think to myself, ‘OK, we’re going to reach one, just one, and if it goes anywhere past that, it’s great,’” he said. “If you love someone suffering mental pain or great pain… I try to express to them never to give up on that or those individuals. Because today is not tomorrow.”

And he has found closure since the first anniversary on the bridge.

“It doesn’t mean you’re free from pain; it just means you understand what you’ve been through and you accept it,” he said.

If you go

Kevin Hines will speak at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 21 at The Key Clubhouse of South Florida’s luncheon benefit at the Pullman Miami Airport Hotel, 5800 Blue Lagoon Dr.

Tickets are sold out but you can be placed on a waiting list. Contact www.keyclubhouse.org or call 305-374-5115

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