Golden Gate Bridge survivor shares stories of hope at Spokane suicide prevention conference
Fri., May 19, 2023
“I live with bipolar depression. I do take medication, but I do tens of other things every day to balance my brain health. I’m not a sufferer, I’m a survivor.” Kevin Hines
Kevin Hines doesn’t shy away from talking about Sept. 25, 2000, when at age 19 he attempted to end his life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Thousands have done the same. Most have died.
He’s one of the few who survived the 220-foot fall, although the impact with the water shattered vertebrae. Today, Hines works to help others survive and often tells others about a powerful, overwhelming feeling the moment he jumped.
“Instant regret,” said Hines, 41, on Wednesday. As a teen, he’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“As I fell, I prayed on the way down that I would live. I hit the water. I went down 70 feet beneath the water’s surface and opened my eyes. I was drowning. Most people die upon impact. I was alive and panicking. I had shattered my T12, L1 and L2 lower vertebrae and missed severing my spinal cord by 2 millimeters, according to the doctors.”
Hines, a suicide prevention advocate based in Atlanta, plans to share messages of survival at “Let’s Talk Suicide,” an all-day conference Monday in Spokane.
The Prevent Suicide Spokane Coalition is hosting the $75 seminar at Gonzaga University’s Hemmingson Center. It’s open to the public and has workshops, speakers and panel discussions. Mayor Nadine Woodward will open the event and talk about her mental health task force geared to youth.
During 2020, 95 people ended their lives in Spokane County. That’s 48% more since 1995, according to Spokane Trends.
Melody Youker, the suicide coalition’s chair, said Monday’s conference grew out an evening sold-out session this past November. Attendees wanted more education.
“We realized our community really needed a learning session for those who have been affected by suicide in any way,” Youker said. “It could be somebody who has been suicidal, somebody who cares for someone who has had suicidal tendencies, or it could be a professional.”
She said the event will have people from community mental health organizations, the Spokane Regional Health District and the state health agency. It will have a resource fair and classes offered twice to give people flexibility.
For the keynote, Hines said he’ll also offer the audience some strategies for people to combat suicidal thoughts.
“No matter what we are collectively going through, what pain we are dealing with, we can overcome that pain with self-belief, faith in the human condition and the idea that you can survive whatever trauma you’ve experienced if you believe you have the ability to do so,” Hines said. He cites perception, perspective and gratitude, even in the most painful experiences in his life, to become resilient and survive.
“I also want to teach the audience very specific techniques on how to survive suicidal thinking – that no matter how often it happens, to stick right here. I am the perfect example of that because I’m alive and have lived for the last 23 years since my attempt with chronic thoughts of suicide, but I’m right here. I stay alive.
“I live with bipolar depression. I do take medication, but I do tens of other things every day to balance my brain health. I’m not a sufferer, I’m a survivor.”
Hines said he’s well aware that Spokane has its parallel to the Golden Gate span in the Monroe Street Bridge, where dozens of calls come in each year to police about people threatening to jump. He said he’s open to sharing ideas with community leaders about safety features for this city bridge.
“I was a founding member of the Bridge Rail Foundation, which is getting the (safety) net up on the Golden Gate Bridge right now,” he said. “There were some delays, but it looks like it’s going to be done by December. We worked on that for 23 years – my father and I, and many, many other people.”
From that process, he said the group learned about bridge safety features. Spokane leaders have talked about emergency phones on either side of the Monroe Street Bridge and other possible safety features, but such planning and funding have yet to move forward.
Youth mental health concerns also rose during the pandemic and since. A Washington state Department of Health report said statewide mental health-related emergency departments visits for children ages 5-17 between April and October 2020 increased by 24% to 31% compared with the same time period in 2019.
Woodward said her mental health task force has more than three dozen members, including health professionals, educators and others, to raise education and awareness of youth suicide prevention resources. The group has looked at ways to promote the new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and how to involve youth in peer-to-peer suicide prevention awareness.
“I set up a task force coming out of the pandemic after seeing collectively the community’s impact with mental health, but especially with youth,” Woodward said. She formed the group after a roundtable discussion with educators, parents and Gov. Jay Inslee in Spokane soon after pandemic shutdowns. It brought up those mental health impacts.
“It was the teachers’ union president who told the governor at that time that the impact on youth is going to be so profound that schools, parents and the community are going to be dealing with that impact for many, many years,” Woodward said.
A recent U.S. Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated one in three high school girls reported in 2021 that they seriously considered suicide. Boys aren’t faring well either. From 2020 to 2021, suicide rates for males rose significantly, according to the CDC, with the largest increase among males ages 15 to 24. Among this group, the suicide rate was up 8% in 2021 over 2020.
Hines wrote the memoir “Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt.” He said after he jumped from the bridge, he struggled to stay on the surface. As he nearly gave up, Hines could feel something swim under him and assumed it was a shark.
However, witnesses later told the U.S. Coast Guard they saw a sea lion swimming under him, and many believed the animal kept Hines afloat as a rescue boat reached him. At the hospital, he required a surgery of just over 10 hours to replace shattered vertebrae with titanium. He attributes that to why, “I can stand, walk and run.”
He said around 39 people survived the fall since the bridge was built; 26 remain alive. “Nineteen including myself of the last 26 have come forward to say that they all had the exact same instant regret feeling the moment their hands left the rail. I was the first to talk about that openly. Of the Golden Gate jump survivors, only five of us can stand, walk and run.”
He also encourages people to be aware of the 988 crisis number, or to text HOME to 741741. “Both are great resources for people in pain in America.”
Registration for the Spokane conference is required by Sunday at spokanesuicideprevention.org, under “Upcoming events.”
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