Nearly 22 years ago, a 19-year-old Kevin Hines jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge committed to ending his life. His desire changed as quickly as his release from the rail of the bridge because during that four-second fall, he decided he wanted to live.
Through the years, the bridge’s 220-foot drop has claimed countless lives, including 25 others who jumped before Hines that same year. But he did not die and looking back he recalls that he had three things working in his favor: a prayer he said to himself on the way down, a sea lion underneath him that kept him from sinking, and a Coast Guard team that responded quickly. Call it fate or luck—forces seemed to be at play to keep Hines alive to tell his story and to inspire others to choose life, despite their challenges.
“I learned that no matter the amount of pain you're in, suicide is never the solution to our problems,” said Hines who is now an inspirational speaker, an award-winning film maker, and mental health advocate. Hines and his wife, Margaret Hines, manage a 24-hour crisis text support line, called CNQR, which stands for: C for Courage; N for Normalize mental health conversations; Q for ask the Questions; and R stands for Recovery. To date they have had 500 active rescues of people in crisis. Those in need can text CNQR to 741-741 and, Hines reports they will get a person to assist them in less than a minute.
Hines’s passion to help others with similar struggles was inspired by a pastor he met during his recovery soon after his jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. He convinced Hines to share his story and to give back. Although that day on the bridge Hines was unable to ask for help, he is certain he wouldn’t have jumped if someone had reached out to ask if he was okay. But no one did.
This is the primary reason why Hines encourages everyone to actively check-in on people who seem to be struggling. Having been there himself, he explained that “people are so unwell mentally that it’s hard to reach out. I argue that brain pain or mental pain is 300 times worse than any physical pain but, people don’t recognize it because they can’t see it.”
Here are the three questions you can ask someone in distress that may save their lives:
- Have you thought of killing yourself?
- Have you made plans to take your life?
- Do you have the means?
When you get a “yes” to any of these questions, Hines insists that you get that person to a safe place.
Despite having assisted in saving hundreds of lives, Hines still wrestles with chronic thoughts of suicide himself, stating that, “I turn to the people I love for help,” and even shared that he’s relied before on the support of strangers. During one of those intense moments at an airport, Hines informed the TSA officer that he wasn’t okay explaining that he was having suicidal thoughts and needed help. The officer locked him in a holding cell and then worked to get Hines to his wife where he felt safe.
Speaking of our connection to loved ones, Hines also wants to debunk the belief that “suicide is a selfish act.” Hines wants people to understand that from that individual’s perspective, they are making the lives of the people around them better by eliminating themselves as a perceived burden.
“It is a tragic situation but people who are suicidal only want to end their pain. They think they are doing their families and friends a favor by exiting this world.”
Hines long ago made a deal with himself that he would never again attempt to take his own life and that he would ask for help and work hard to manage his thoughts instead. He recently shared his ways to cope, his story, and lessons he learned from his experience during a live event at Coast Guard headquarters. Visit the portal page to view his presentation.
Hines says it is necessary to share his experience to a military audience because he believes that, "We have to check in on our strong friends.” He reasons that “one of the biggest problems in the military is that they train individuals to silence their pain,” said Hines. “I have found in speaking with military members, a great deal of them struggle and don’t talk about what they are dealing with emotionally,” he said.
One of Hines’ goals in addressing Coast Guard members, both in this recent talk as well as an upcoming one, is to caution attendees. “Don’t learn the hard way like I did, share [your feelings] with someone who loves you so that you can survive it,” said Hines.
Here are some warning signs Hines provides to recognize when a colleague or a loved one needs your support:
- When they start to give away prized possessions.
- When they begin losing a lot of sleep.
- When their eating patterns shift—either underrating or overeating.
Some of these indicators can also be signs of depression that can lead to suicidal thoughts.
The Suicide Prevention and Behavioral Health Program Manager, LaMar Henderson, coordinated Hines’ presentation added, “I believe Kevin’s story resonated with his audience for many reasons. First, we [at the Coast Guard] are the ones that helped save his life. Second, he provides a story of ongoing resiliency. He continues to struggle with mental health, yet pushes through and works to inspire others on a daily basis to find the best in life. Lastly, his story is genuine and relatable to many who may be struggling themselves or know someone who is having challenges. We often hear from providers and/or responders about ways to support people with compromised mental health. He is a person with compromised mental health and can tell the people how he believes responders/supporters can be of service to those experiencing the need for crisis intervention,” said Henderson.
Hines shares a core sentiment that seems to highlight all he’s been able to accomplish and all of the lives he’s been able to touch because of his gift of life. “I am truly grateful for the Coast Guard officers that saved my life. I still struggle on a regular basis but I also recognize the value and the beauty in life as well,” said Hines. “I want people to know that no matter the pain they are in, they can live well, even with their struggles.”
To learn more about Hines’ story and his suicide prevention work, visit his website.
- Visit: www.suicide.org for suicide awareness, prevention, and support
- Call: Lifeline 1 (800) 273-8255 (USA only)
- Call/text 988. The line is a direct connection to confidential, compassionate, accessible and supportive care for anyone, whether it is due to thoughts of suicide, a mental health or substance use crisis, or any type of emotional distress. However, if you feel an individual is in immediate danger of hurting themselves or others please call 911.
- CG SUPRT: Call 1-855-CG-SUPRT (247-8778) at any time.
- The Suicide Prevention Stand-Down Toolkit is available to assist Coast Guard commands in providing engaged conversations with their respective workforces about managing stress and the importance of mental health to maintain optimal readiness.
- Make an appointment with your regional behavioral health provider. Contact your unit medical officer for a referral or email BehavioralHealth@uscg.mil.
- Work-Life Employee Assistance Program Coordinators (EAPCs) are also available to assist.
- Chaplains are another valuable resource, you can call them at 1-855-USCG-CHC (872-4242).
- Concerned about a veteran or Coast Guard member who may be in emotional distress or suicidal crisis? If you would rather chat or text, a confidential chat is available (http://www.VeteransCrisisLine.net). The Veterans Crisis Line is available at (800) 273-8255 and Press 1, or text 838255.