The voices told him to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and end his life.
Kevin Hines listened.
It wasn’t until after he let go and went into a free-fall — on Sept. 24, 2000 — when the then 19-year-old realized the voices were wrong.
“The millisecond that my hands left that rail and my legs cleared it, [I felt] instant regret for my actions and the absolute recognition [that] I just made the greatest mistake of my life,” he said to an audience at the Myer Auditorium Nov. 13. “It was too late.”
Except, it wasn’t.
Seventeen years later, Hines is one of the few people — just 36 on record— who have survived a suicide attempt after jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. He is one of five who have regained full physical mobility. More than 2,000 people have died after jumping off the bridge.
“They call it the most exclusive survivors club in the world,” he said. “I’m not lucky to be here. I’m blessed and lucky to be anywhere.”
Hines, now 36, told the tale of his 220-foot, 4 second fall during a talk hosted by the U.S. Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity. He went into detail about his upbringing as an adopted child, how he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder at 17, and what led him to his decision to jump off the bridge.
“In the thick of denial and depression, they’re lying the entire time and we don’t know it,” he said of the voices that plagued him.
He went on to talk about the physical and mental aspects of his recovery process, which included the story of how he met his wife of 10 years.
He also talked about the importance of others staying alert for those who may need help. He said that had he been asked “Are you ok?” “Is something wrong? or “Can I help you?” in the moments leading to his plunge off the bridge, he probably would not have jumped.
“Certainly the military understands this,” he said. “If we are nothing else on this planet, we are one thing, our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”
Ultimately, Hines said, the key is self-awareness.
“Just because you were in a world of pain today, it doesn’t mean that some day you won’t have one hell of a beautiful tomorrow,” he said. “I’m living proof of that and living proof of recovery.”
Col. David Dinger, AMSAA deputy director and chief of staff, said military suicides have been on the rise in recent years. There were 256 active military suicides in 2013 and 275 last year. From 2001 to 197 there were no more than 197 suicides in a year. The suicide rate in civilian ranks is 14 per 100,000, he said.
Dinger said Hines’s speech is more effective than a slideshow for suicide prevention training.
“He offered a look into the mind of a person who is struggling,” Dinger said of Hines. “Not being a person who has struggled to that depth before, it really kind of makes you understand a little bit more that it’s just not very light on the surface, it’s a pretty deep struggle.”
Lori Wohr, an operations specialist with AMSAA, said Hines has an important story to share and he was a good fit for the installation, in part because his age fits in well with the age demographic of Soldiers. She thought his message of admitting when help is needed is one that should spread.
“It’s not that it makes us weak to need help,” she said. “It makes us stronger to ask for help.”