Wisc. Mental Health Advocate Educates First Responders

By: McClatchy

After years of battling his own mind, Kevin Hines had come to a breaking point.

So one day in September 2000, tired of feeling the pain of bipolar disorder and the havoc it had wreaked on his life, Hines boarded a bus to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Hines had no intention of returning home. But little did he know, that was the day that would finally turn his life around—for the better.

“The millisecond my hands left that rail and my legs cleared it, there was an instant regret for my actions. I had 100 percent recognition that I had just made the greatest mistake of my life and it was too late,” Hines told a crowd of Chippewa Valley Technical College students on Tuesday. “And then, something unexpected happened. I opened my eyes, 70 feet underwater.”

Hines is one of 36 people—fewer than 1 percent of more than 2,000 people—to survive attempted suicide by leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge since it was erected in 1937.

Since surviving that attempt, Hines has made it his life’s mission to prevent others from attempting the same through his work as a mental health advocate, motivational speaker, author and documentary filmmaker.

On Tuesday, Hines brought his message—that no one is alone, and recovery from mental illness is possible—to CVTC for two speeches.

In the morning, Hines spoke to emergency services students who ranged from future nurses and paramedics to police officers and firefighters, all of whom may regularly work with individuals considering suicide or suffering from other mental health issues.

Hines recalled the moments leading up to the day he decided he was going to end his life when his mental illness had consumed him to the point he felt as if no one cared about him.

He was crying in the middle of Golden Gate Bridge, visibly shaken and in severe emotional pain, when a woman approached him and asked him to take her photo.

“She walked away, and that’s when I said to myself, ‘Absolutely nobody cares.’ Was that true?” Hines said to the crowd, which collectively responded a resounding “no.”

“Everybody cared—my family cared, my friends cared,” Hines said. “You guys would’ve been there to save me because you care.”

The woman who approached him cared and had tried to connect with him, Hines eventually realized, as most others do and the students before him, all pursuing careers that involve saving people, especially do.

Anyone struggling with mental illness must remember that, Hines said.

“We’re not here for personal betterment or gain; that’s why you’re getting into the fields you’re getting into,” Hines said. “That’s why you want to be nurses. That’s why you’re in law enforcement; that’s why you’re paramedics—to give back. That’s why you’re in criminal justice—because you care. We are here for each other. We’re not here to hurt each other with our words or actions.”

Hines also told the crowd a story about how he decided to commit himself to a psychiatric ward.

That day, after Hines realized his depression had gotten out of hand and he needed to again seek help, two police officers brought him to the hospital.

But they didn’t stop there—the duo stayed with him in the hospital waiting room and comforted him as he sobbed.

“It was probably one of the kindest things two officers could’ve done for me in that moment of crisis,” Hines said. “These officers cared enough to look at me and treat me like a human being and not just a patient.”

Allie Eckes, a UW-Stout student attending CVTC’s Police Academy this semester, said the talk was inspiring to her as a future law enforcement officer.

Eckes said much of her education has been about crisis management, and law enforcement’s interaction with people who struggle with depression or another mental illness is something that is often overlooked, but incredibly important.

“I was tearing up at several points,” Eckes said. “I wish people heard these stories about our law enforcement more often.”

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