By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published December 1, 2016
ATLANTA—Kevin Hines, who survived a suicide jump from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in 2000, has made mental health advocacy his life’s work.
Hines, who recently moved to Atlanta, speaks nationwide about suicide prevention awareness and improving care for those who suffer from mental illness.
He works with church groups, congregations and schools to share a message of hope and faith. Hines serves on boards of directors of several national mental health organizations including the survivors’ board of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
In addition to receiving proper care, the support of others and his Catholic faith are central to Hines’ stability and well-being.
“I believe in the three F’s—faith, family and friends,” said Hines.
He and his wife, Margaret, moved to Atlanta in the last year for a more central home base for his company, 17th & Montgomery Productions.
A mental health media company, 17th & Montgomery Productions is set to release the documentary, “Suicide: The Ripple Effect” in 2017.
“The film is a global effort to change lives,” said Hines.
Hines, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, began experiencing paranoia and depression at 17. At the age of 19, he made the decision to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge at the urging of voices.
Only three-dozen people out of nearly 2,000 have survived the jump. Although Hines was visibly upset while up on the bridge, no one tried to intervene that day.
The minute he jumped, Hines instantly regretted it.
Many Golden Gate jump survivors felt the same way.
“Nineteen have come forward and had that same regret,” he said. “We don’t see the mistake we’re making.”
The power of the story
Brother George Cherrie, a Franciscan friar and hospital chaplain, visited Hines when he was recovering from the fall. He was the first to suggest the young man share his story.
“You should talk about your story. You ought to talk about this,” the chaplain told him.
“To who?” thought Hines. “It was only a few short months after my attempt.”
Hines’ pastor at St. Cecilia Church, where he was baptized, confirmed and later married, made a similar request.
Msgr. Mike Harriman asked Hines to speak to seventh- and eighth-grade students.
“I wouldn’t know what to say,” was his initial reply.
“I didn’t understand the power of story,” said Hines.
He spoke to the classes, all the while thinking it wasn’t “going to help a soul.” His father, Patrick, also encouraged him to do it.
After speaking, Hines received numerous letters, some from youth who needed help.
“All the letters were positive,” he recalled. “We were able to get them help. This was my mission.”
In 2013, Hines saw the release of his book “Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt.”
“It was a four-year process of writing,” said Hines. “I wrote the last chapter in the psych ward.”
Since his suicide attempt, Hines has had seven stays at hospitals for psychiatric care.
Hines received 16 rejections from book publishers before Rowman & Littlefield picked it up.
“We won’t publish it because it talks about suicide,” he said was the prevailing thought of other publishers.
When survivors or loved ones of individuals who lost their lives to suicide speak openly it can create an inspiring ripple effect.
Joining with Australians and fellow advocates Joe Williams and Lauren Breen, Hines participated in the Hope Heals Tour in various states in 2015 and again this year. Hines is careful to note he is not a clinician. Their work on the tour connects people from all walks of life with the clinical help they need to live better lives.
“We all got out as a team and acted as a resource,” he said.
Prayer, clinical care, support of others
His prayer life and Catholic faith have helped Hines in his journey.
“I have St. Dymphna around my neck,” he said. St. Dymphna is patroness of those who suffer from mental illness.
He also wears a cross, blessed in Italy, which belonged to his late mother-in-law.
“It means a lot to me,” he said.
One prayer in particular, “Jesus, Jesus come to me,” is meaningful to Hines.
“I have a few favorite prayers,” he added.
In times of panic, he often prays for the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel. He emphasized that prayer is not the only answer.
“You still need that clinical care,” he said.
Church communities can be vital in reaching out to those with mental illness, their families and caregivers.
“Globally, the churches of the world need to recognize they can play a role,” he said.
Hines tries to live a healthy lifestyle by being physically active and practicing 4-7-8 breathing exercises when experiencing stress to lower his heart rate.
Being thankful is also part of staying healthy.
“Gratitude for me is just one of the keys of my entire life. I personally see every moment of life very differently now,” he said. “I’m grateful for every moment of my life.”
Hines’ wife and his father are sources of strength for him, as is his brother-in-law.
If he had not survived, Hines wouldn’t have met his wife or brother-in-law or even enjoyed the company of his dog.
“There are so many what-ifs,” he said.
He is thankful for the “beautiful caregivers” for people who struggle with mental health.
“We need them,” he said.
As Hines walked on the Golden Gate Bridge, he waited for just one person to ask why he was upset. No one offered to help.
Today, he takes the time to talk to others.
He uses the barista at the local coffee shop as an example. Most times, customers will simply place an order.
“They walk away. They don’t always think, how’s the barista feeling?” he said.
He makes it a point to ask how others are doing.
“That’s special when people open up and tell the truth,” he said.
“When I ride the bus, I’m going to say ‘hi.’ Maybe it bettered their day.”
Hines also feels it is important to draw attention to the positive work of others, including Jacob Moore, who started nostigmas.org, a nonprofit charity where people with mental health struggles can connect with others and learn more.
Because he has bipolar disorder, Hines has found the BP Magazine and its online hope community to be helpful. He also highlights the work of the International Bipolar Foundation and serves on its board of directors.
“They do a great deal of great work,” he said. “There’s much more needed to be done.”