Kevin Hines felt an immediate surge of regret as he jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge, plunging more than 220 feet into the water below.
The 19-year-old went feet first into the bay. Intense pain overcame him. He saw what he believed to be a shark swimming toward him.
About 2,000 people have jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge, Hines told an audience Monday. Of those 2,000, 39 have survived. Of the 39 who have survived, Hines is just one of five who was not left paralyzed or otherwise permanently disabled.
Hines told this story, 19 years later, to a captivated audience Monday morning at Jesuit High School, where he was invited as a keynote speaker for the Catholic school’s social justice week.
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During the all-school assembly, Hines told the gymnasium full of boys and young men pieces of his life story – how during his youth, he struggled with bipolar disorder, auditory hallucinations and the feeling that no one cared about his life.
It was a voice inside his head, he said, that told him to jump off the bridge that day in 2000. His real self, he said, regretted that choice “the millisecond” his hand left the railing.
Hines recalled the time he had earned a part in a school play, but the voices talked to him again while he was on stage.
“I believed wholeheartedly that every single one of them was there to do one thing: Kill me,” Hines said. “What would you guys do if you thought 1,200 people were coming to kill you at once?”
The audience answered: “Run.”
The 37-year-old speaker’s tale took comical twists at times. Hines, who attended a Catholic high school as well, weaved in good-natured jokes about his family members and mild self-deprecation as he relayed his story.
He told listeners how, moments before he attempted suicide, a woman approached him on the Golden Gate Bridge. He thought she recognized his pain. But instead, he said, she was a tourist asking him to take a photo of her with her digital camera.
Moments later, Hines jumped. He remembers thinking he was face-to-face with a shark in the bay’s waters. Instead, it turned out to be a seal, which he said he believes helped buoy him on the surface, saving him from drowning until the Coast Guard arrived to rescue him.
Hines broke an ankle, and doctors told him he came within 2 millimeters of suffering severe spinal injury, but he is alive.
Hines finished his speech to applause from Jesuit’s more than 1,000 students. As the gym cleared out, many juniors and seniors of the private high school shook hands with him as they exited.
One teen approached Hines to shake his hand. The two spoke for a few minutes and the boy became teary-eyed. Hines entered the boy’s contact information into his phone and vice versa. The two hugged before the student headed back to class.
A group of about two dozen Jesuit students hung around for 15 or 20 minutes after the assembly to thank Hines, ask him more questions and pose for photos with him.
“Some of these young men were coming up and talking about their own internal struggles,” Hines said. “Others were saying how much the speech helped them feel better ... We had a very successful day.”
Hines said one of the students told him he was able to relate to his speech after a suicide attempt in recent years.
“We had another young man come up and say that this was gonna help keep him here.”
Once “content to die by my own hands,” Hines now has turned his life toward promoting mental health and suicide prevention resources, especially to youths.
With his wife, he established the Kevin and Margaret Hines Foundation, which works to gather funds and provide resources for suicide prevention efforts. The foundation is based out of Atlanta.
“In a time when more youth are dying by suicide than ever before, It’s crucial to share a message of help, healing, recovery and how to define and create the art of wellness in your life.”
Hines appears to be the only Golden Gate Bridge suicide survivor who is actively working in suicide prevention or awareness. He has established one of several mantras he repeated Monday: “My thoughts do not have to become my actions.”
The advocate uses an active social media presence – a Twitter account with more than 17,000 followers and a vlog series on YouTube with nearly 300 videos posted – to promote that mantra, and to explore topics relating to suicide prevention and awareness.
Hines gained considerable media attention in 2015, when a video account of his suicide attempt posted by BuzzFeed, titled “I Jumped Off The Golden Gate Bridge” went viral, gaining millions of views. He appeared on numerous talk shows and in many national publications, to share his story and his message.
The San Francisco native also directed and produced a feature-length documentary on the subject, titled “Suicide: The Ripple Effect,” released last February. It received the “Best Story” award at the 2018 Nice International Film Festival.
Jesuit Principal Michael Wood said social justice week is designated every year at Jesuit, with varying topics. Another recent year’s topic was criminal justice reform.
“We spend an entire week of activities, presentations and sessions emphasizing elements of mental health and wellness, not just for students but for all people,” Wood said.
The week will include three or four guest speakers each day, the principal said.
Wearing a shirt that reads “Be Here tomorrow,” Hines gave his advice to anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide:
“Stop. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Take a moment to reflect. Every one of us is going to pass on. Every one of us is going to die, naturally. But if you give this life time, you’ve given it time to change. With time, hard work and effort to change your mental, mind and behavioral health you can thrive even in spite of the pain you’re in today. Suicide never has to be the solution to your problem. I did it the wrong way.”
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts is urged to text “CNQR” to 741741, a crisis text line, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.