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A sea lion kept him afloat after he jumped off a bridge. Today, he's a suicide prevention speaker.

He now travels across the country sharing his story to help others struggling with mental health issues and who might find solace in knowing they aren't alone.

A sea lion kept him afloat after he jumped off a bridge. Today, he's a suicide prevention speaker.
Cover Image Source: Kevin Hines

Trigger warning: This story contains descriptions of suicide and mental health challenges which some readers may find distressing.

Kevin Hines has struggled with mental health issues for as long as he can remember. Speaking to The Aspen Times, he shared that he believes they stem from a traumatic infancy during which he experienced a difficult home life and the death of his brother. These things left him with abandonment issues and a severe detachment disorder, he said, crediting the Hines family for saving his life by adopting him at 4 years of age. "They gave me a future and stability and opportunity," Hines shared. "Growing up in the Hines household was a beautiful thing. We wanted nor needed for anything, all because of how hard (they) worked."



 

Although his new home gave him a much more stable life than the one he'd had with his birth parents—who he said sold drugs to put a roof over their heads—the lingering effects of his first few formative years coupled with genetics haunted Hines as he grow older. At age 17, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder—the same diagnosis as his birth parents—with psychotic features. It came out of the blue for the then-eclectic teenager who was a skilled wrestler, played on the football team and participated in his school’s theater department before he started having manic highs and dark depressions, paranoid delusions, hallucinations and panic attacks.



 

"I really enjoyed life, and I was thoroughly excited for what was to come," Hines recalled. "And then at 17 1/2, it all kind of came crashing down, and I developed a mental illness." Although his family started to pick up on signs that he might have a mental illness, they didn’t know how they could help him. "I was not telling anybody how severe my symptoms were, so I would see things and hear things that no one else could see or hear," Hines said. "I kept it to myself. I would have paranoid delusions, and I wouldn't tell anybody." His mother took him to see his first psychiatrist after he had an outburst at school and the two years that followed were a "rocky road" as he tried to figure out what medicine and dosage could help.



 

During this period, Hines said he felt self-loathing and heard voices telling him he had to die. It all came to a head on September 25, 2000, when the then-19-year-old Hines jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. "I jumped," he said. "It was the single worst action of my entire life. The millisecond my hands left the rail, I had an instantaneous regret for my actions. It's 100% recognition that I had just made the greatest mistake of my life, and it was too late." According to Hines' website, many incredible factors contributed to his survival, including a sea lion that kept him afloat until the U.S. Coast Guard pulled him from the water with a broken back and other serious injuries.



 

That was the beginning of a long, intensive road to recovery—both physically and mentally—for Hines. He was acutely aware of how lucky he was to be alive as he is one of less than 40 people who have survived a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge and one of fewer than 10 who have regained full mobility after doing so. About six months after his suicide attempt, Hines started publicly talking about his struggles with mental health. His first talk was at his former school, where he addressed more than 100 seventh and eighth grade kids. "I still had my back brace and my cane," he said of the injuries he suffered in the fall. "I read a speech from the page, dropping page by page to the floor, crying and shaking the whole time. It was very raw." It soon became evident that his talk had a profound impact on the youngsters. He received 120 letters from the students thanking him for presenting and some sharing that they were having thoughts of suicide. Hines made sure that the youngsters who admitted to experiencing such thoughts received the help they needed.



 

"It feels amazing," he said. "It was the first time I spoke, and it had that kind of an impact. My dad looked at me when he read the letters, and he said, 'Kevin, we have to do this however, wherever possible.' And we never stopped." Eventually, Hines turned his speaking engagements into a full-time job and now travels across the country sharing his story in the hope that others struggling with mental health issues will find solace in the knowledge that they aren't alone in their battle and that they can seek help. Hines has also authored a memoir titled "Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt" and produced a documentary called "Suicide: The Ripple Effect."

If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide or require mental health support, call or text 988 to talk to a trained counselor at the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, or visit 988lifeline.org to connect with a counselor and chat in real time. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress as well as prevention and crisis resources for healthcare professionals.

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