Suicide Survivor becomes an Advocate

As we have discussed in past blogs, depression is a persistent and potentially debilitating mental health issue that affects millions of individuals every year. For most, a combination of medication, counseling and lifestyle changes help to overcome this mental health challenge. Unfortunately for some, this isn’t always the outcome and many individuals with depression are driven to death by suicide. Depression can be a fatal illness.

One common theme amongst individuals who survive a suicide is an immediate desire to live. Kevin Hines felt this way the moment he threw himself off the Golden Gate Bridge. Hines was suffering from bipolar disorder and, in a state of depression, finally succumbed to the overwhelming compulsion to end his life. As he describes it, he heard constant voices telling him he was worthless and needed to die. He felt he had no choice.

As he plummeted 220 feet into the San Francisco bay, he prayed for survival. On impact, he shattered his spine, piercing his internal organs with shards of bone. Hines was one of only 36 individuals out of more than 2,000 who are known to have survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite his struggles, Hines felt fortunate to have survived and, six months after jumping, he spoke to a group of middle school students about depression and suicide. Afterward, he received over a hundred letters from students thanking him for talking to them and many of the students expressed their own struggles with depression. Hines was inspired.

Since then, Hines has become a major public advocate to raise awareness about mental health issues. Personally, he still struggles with bipolar disorder and the depression that is a symptom of that disease.  He acknowledges, he faces obstacles every day. But his main message is about hope. That even though today is difficult, tomorrow doesn’t have to be. Hope offers the opportunity for a better tomorrow and a chance to heal.

As part of Hines effort, officials in San Francisco added safety nets that extended 20 feet out and run the entire 1.7 mile stretch of the Golden Gate Bridge. Though this is an excellent step, it still comes at the last possible moment to save a life. In an ideal world, the misplaced stigmas around mental health challenges would be removed and replaced with more understanding and acceptance. In such a world, the need for safety nets would be greatly reduced as individuals would be able to seek and find the help needed long before they felt that suicide was their only option. We may be a long way from that ideal world as up to 60% of adults with mental health challenges go undiagnosed and untreated, but through the awareness and advocacy efforts of individuals like Kevin Hines, we can hope for a better future.