“Kid, you’re a miracle,” the U.S. Coast Guard said to 19-year-old Kevin Hines after pulling him out of the freezing waters surrounding the Golden Gate Bridge.
On Sept. 25, 2000, Pat Hines dropped Kevin off at San Francisco City College with no anticipation of the overwhelming news he would later receive about his son.
Without telling his father, Kevin went directly to the college counseling office to drop his courses except English; he wanted to see the particular professor one last time. Kevin recalls his counselor accommodating this request without questions or concerns.
Kevin proceeded to use what little money he had to take the subway, to a bus, to the Golden Gate Bridge. Sobbing in the center seat at the back of the bus, Kevin promised himself if one person offered to help him, he wouldn’t have to submit to the voices in his head demanding him to die.
Kevin walked back and forth on the bridge for almost an hour, still crying, still waiting for a stranger to help; the chronic suicidal thoughts echoed unbearably through his mind.
Kevin, like many other suicide survivors, recalls the instant regret he felt as his hands slipped off the rail before he plunged 220 feet to the water’s surface. The impact reverberated through his legs, shattering multiple vertebrae, avoiding severing his spinal cord by only two millimeters. Kevin then sunk 70 feet below the water’s surface.
Temporarily unable to use his legs, Kevin struggled to the surface of the freezing waters. He recalls being kept afloat by a shark until he was quickly rescued by the Coast Guard, who were alerted by a concerned woman who saw Kevin jump off the edge of the bridge.
Kevin spent years recovering from this traumatic experience. Still plagued by chronic suicidal thoughts, Kevin finds solace by encouraging audience members that being open about mental illness helps to confront feelings of depression and suicide, enabling one to “grow stronger than depression.” He offered his experience in a public lecture hosted by the Legacy Project at County College of Morris Tuesday, Sept. 19 with hopes that students will learn from his mistakes and not repeat them.
Ariella Panek, a counselor from the Office of Counseling and Student Success, thanked the Legacy Project for hosting Kevin.
“No matter who we are we have the ability to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and depressed at various time in our lives; as a college student, responsibilities and the stresses are only increased,” Panek said. “Millennials are the most stressed population to date with highest levels of anxiety and depression when compared to previous generations.”
Kurt Schenck, who studies fire science technology at CCM, said he was inspired by his friends and girlfriend to attend the seminar for advice on how to help.
“I’m actually really into preventing suicide,” Schenck said. “I learned how to talk to them with an understanding approach.
In his lecture, Kevin said that he advised against silencing pain.
“The drive to attempt suicide can be irrational and is distorted from reality … because the pain is real, it is valid and it matters, because you matter,” Kevin said.
Kevin said that depression is a vicious, malicious liar that should be combatted with routine, exercise, and a healthy diet. He urged his audience to ask for help if, and when it is needed “because your life matters to everyone you love.”
Kevin said he would like to see the community come together to make people feel valued and to use disarming language to sound free of judgement and voice personal concerns. Kevin said to support people suffering from depression by telling them, “You can get through this. I know you can.”
“If you ever doubted that your actions can change the world, don’t,” Kevin said, triggering hope after years of struggling with the Bridge Rail Foundation, to raise a net around the Golden Gate Bridge to prevent suicide. His struggle became a success, and the net will be put in place in January of 2021.