WARSAW — In high school, Kevin Hines was performing on stage the moment an event shed light on his apparently inherited mental illness. On the day the San Francisco native decided to take his own life, a diverse cast of characters would play roles in the odds-defying odyssey that lead him to become a nationally-renowned advocate against self harm.
Hines is in Warsaw Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 26-27, to talk to the community about the many layers of suicide and calls on personal experiences to drive home a strong message. He is hosted by Warsaw Community Schools.
“This particular convo is going to be one of the strongest messages that we’ve heard as a body here at Warsaw Community High School,” said Warsaw Community High School Principal Troy Akers. During the first morning convocation at WCHS’s Performing Arts Center, where Hines spoke to a capacity crowd of students, the 37-year-old was introduced by WCS Guidance Counselor Sarah Graham.
“I saw Kevin about a year ago and his story was so powerful and so full of hope, help and healing, which goes right along with our Source of Strength, that I knew he needed to be at Warsaw Community Schools,” Graham said.
Hines told the crowd that his life leading up to his suicide attempt on the Golden Gate Bridge, on Sept. 25, 2000 when he was 19 years, had been a potent formula for self-harm. He was the child of poor parents and was placed into the foster system as a child. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with a mental illness and it was not long after that when he found himself on the bridge infamous for a suicide attempt every 10 days. He said he was strongly contemplating making the leap that kills 99 percent of those who jump, but admitted he was also hoping for someone to reach out and show compassion. It was at that moment when a woman approached him and he thought his savior had arrived.
“She approached me with a smile on her face and I thought ‘this lady’s going to save me,’” he said, adding that at that moment, the woman pulled out a digital camera and asked Hines to take her photograph. Hines said she posed for five photographs, to be taken by a photographer who would ultimately jump off the bridge just minutes later. “Instagram didn’t exist,” he joked. “What was she doing.” After Hines obliged, the woman left and he jumped just moments later.
“I believed I was useless,” he said. “I felt I had no value. I thought my family hated me and that I was their greatest burden and I thought I had to die.”
Hines told the crowd he was 17 years and performing on stage in a high school production when he had the psychotic break that led to a mental illness diagnosis, a revelation that had also been made about his biological parents. His mother committed suicide.
“I had developed the very same brain diagnosis, brain disease, that both of my biological parents had before me,” he said. “Back then, they called it manic depression, but in my day, they called it bipolar disorder, particularly biopolar disorder type 1 with psychotic features.”
The disease causes Hines to have visual hallucinations and hear voices. In addition, he suffers from paranoid delusions, panic attacks and anxiety issues.
“It took me to the place I was on Sept. 25, 2000, at 19 years of age, a mere child,” he said. “I went to the Golden Gate Bridge and I attempted to die at my hands because I believed I had no other course to take and I was wrong.”
Hines stressed to the students that one of the most effective things a suicidal person can do is to ask for help and to know who to turn to for that help.
“It’s a matter of finding the right person able to empathize with that pain so you can survive it at all cost,” he said. “When I was on that bridge, and I stood there crying my tears into the waters below, nobody tried to ask if I was OK.”
Hines said he served as a makeshift photographer to a total stranger, then made the fateful decision.
“I catapulted myself into free fall, but it was the millisecond my hands left that rail and my legs cleared it, I had instant regret for my actions,” he said.
It is estimated that since its construction in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge has been the scene of 1700 suicides. Of all the attempts, which are successful in making the jump, Hines said only 39 people have survived the fall.
“I fell 220 feet, that’s 25 stories at 75 miles per hour in four seconds, praying that I would live,” he said. He said of the 39 people who have survived, 25 are still alive today and “of those 25, 19 have come forward to say they had that exact same instant regret of their actions.”
Hines hit the water and was immediately injured so severely that he could not use his lower body to stay afloat. It was then that the second character in his personal drama took the stage. He began to feel something in the water. He described it as “something large and slimy and very much alive.” Thinking it was a shark, he fought the creature even though whatever was in the water with him kept him afloat until he could be plucked from the frigid water by members of the Coast Guard.
He said one of the most successful back surgeons in the country was leaving the hospital when he arrived, but decided to stay to perform the operation that would lead to his being able to walk again, something that defies even longer odds than surviving the jump.
“Five of us get the privilege to stand, walk and run and that’s a gift,” Hines said of the jump survivors. “I’m so grateful for every millisecond I get to be on this planet.”
Hines said he thought all along that the creature he encountered in the water was a shark. He learned some time later, through a letter written by a witness to his attempt, that his aquatic savior was actually a sea lion.
Hines wrapped up his presentation by speaking to any students in the audience who might be feeling despair.
“Fight the pain so you can be here tomorrow and every day after that,” he said. “You are of value, you are worthy, you are important to us. Suicide can never be the solution to your problems, it is the problem.” The organization in charge of the famed San Francisco bridge has begun construction of a net designed to prevent such suicide attempts.
Hines will continue to make appearances for the next two days. The following is a schedule of his appearances.
- 12:15 to 1:45 p.m. — Community Lunch and Learn with a screening of Hines’ movie, “Suicide: The Ripple Effect” and Warsaw Community Church.
- 2 to 3 p.m. — Hines’ presentation, following an expert panel discussion at Warsaw Community Church.
- 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. — Parent/Community Event: Student presentation and screening of “Suicide: The Ripple Effect” at Performing Arts Center
- 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Hines’ presentation at chapel at Grace College and Seminary at Manahan Orthopedic Capital Center.
- 1 to 2 p.m. Hines’ presentation at Lakeview Middle School.