On Sept. 25, 2000, Kevin Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge because his brain was on fire.
Hines, 19 at the time, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years prior, and was in so much mental pain, that it turned physical, he said.
He thought the waters of the San Francisco Bay would put out the fire he felt inside.
“I felt alone,” Hines recalled. “I thought I was the only person in the world with this silly disease.”
As soon as his feet left the bridge, Hines said he regretted the decision and miraculously managed to survive the 220-foot drop. He credits his overall good physical condition and the way he landed, but above all he credits God for his life.
Now 32, Hines, author of Cracked, Not Broken, travels the country speaking about mental health awareness and perseverance. The San Francisco resident is only one in 34 to survive the jump that has taken the lives of at least 1,600 since the bridge’s opening in 1937.
On Wednesday night Hines, who is one of the few to survive the jump with full mobility, spoke to a crowd at Texas Christian University’s Brown-Lupton University Union to share the message that suicide is the biggest mistake anyone can make.
He was brought in as part of the R U OK? campaign at TCU that is focused on fostering conversation and forgetting stigma associated with mental illness.
“Do not be afraid to ask the question, ‘Are you thinking of suicide?’ And then ask them if they have a plan,” Hines said. “We are often so entrapped in our own minds that we can’t begin to fathom or understand others.”
And help can be hard to ask for when society puts labels on everyone, Hines added.
“People look at you and say, ‘Get over it,’ ” he said.
Are you OK?
After six TCU students killed themselves on campus in the past four years, following a 12-year suicide-free span, the university applied for and got a $244,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
That grant went toward the R U OK suicide prevention campaign through the Counseling & Mental Health Center at TCU, said Cortney Gumbleton, the suicide prevention outreach coordinator.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students after automobile accidents, Gumbleton said. She said this is because most mental illnesses develop between the ages of 18-24.
“That is an age where people are developing mental health disorders. They face difficulty in transition from childhood to adulthood. A lot of the things we see are that students aren’t able to cope,” she said.
“Research shows more kids are coming into college with prior mental health problems,” she said.
The R U OK? campaign she coordinates is directed at friends and families that have the opportunity to save lives. Gumbleton said it’s about teaching the warning signs and risk factors.
Someone might give the indirect verbal cue, “My family would be better off without me,” and give away prized possessions, according to warning signs listed on the university website.
“Had I known people were trying to help me, I would have reached out,” Hines said. “… Part of being in that state of mind is not being amenable to hope.”
Hope is where help is
One in four Americans are living with a diagnosable mental disorder, and bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
More than 90 percent of people that commit suicide suffered from a diagnosable mental disorder or substance abuse disorder.
Gumbleton hopes to reduce the stigma and break down barriers.
“Oftentimes when people who commit suicide are actually dying, they change their minds, but by then its too late,” she said.
Gumbleton said the university brought Hines on campus to share that help is available.
Hines said it wasn’t until his third psychiatric ward stay that he realized he had to work toward living his life. He has his routines; he lives in honesty; he let go of the denial.
“I live in complete honesty now. I am not in denial at all anymore. I have been fired from jobs, lost people I thought were friends, but you know what? I found a job, and I have real friends now.”
The TCU Counseling and Mental Health Center, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, TCU Panhellenic, Active Minds and the R U OK? campaign brought Hines to TCU.