People who jump off the Golden Gate Bridge usually do not survive. The fall is 245 feet and the frigid water below is effectively as hard as concrete after four seconds of freefall.
John Kevin Hines, however, survived the fall and will share his story tonight at 7 p.m. in I.V. Theater.
A native of San Francisco, Hines was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 16. Three years later, he leapt from the Golden Gate in a suicide attempt. When he hit the water beneath the nation’s number one suicide spot, he instantly snapped the bones in his back.
His survival instincts in full force, Hines kept his broken body afloat. He says he was helped by a sea lion that brushed against his legs and circled him. Eventually, a Coast Guard boat arrived and pulled him from the freezing cold waters of the San Francisco Bay. He was then rushed to a hospital where he received life-saving surgery. While recovering, Hines received spiritual advice from a Franciscan monk who suggested he share his story.
Hines said he first spoke publicly about his experience to a group of 7th and 8th graders. After sharing his story, Hines said, six students approached him and admitted they had also harbored suicidal thoughts. At that moment, Hines said, he realized he could help people by sharing his story. Since then, his tale has appeared in People magazine, Time magazine, The New Yorker and Newsweek, and he has made appearances on Larry King Live, Primetime, Anderson Cooper 360, 20/20 and Good Morning America.
When he speaks to UCSB students tonight, Hines said he hopes to reach out to people in similar situations and help others understand those who are afflicted with mental illnesses.
“I want to give them a glimmer of hope,” Hines said. “Suicide is never the answer under any circumstances. I hope that somebody out there needs to hear this message.”
Hines said he speaks both in memory of those who were not granted a second chance at life and because most suicides can be averted with proper counseling.
“The main reason I do this is so I can speak for those who have jumped and died,” Hines said. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Most of the time if you can get a person to go to a hospital within 48- 72 hours [the urge to commit suicide] will pass.”
Marianne Clark, a Mental Health intern at UCSB, said Hines’ visit is relevant to UCSB since suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students and rates continue to rise.
“From 2004 to 2005, there were 20 suicides on UC campuses,” Clark said. “Also, 1 in 10 students at UC schools have contemplated suicide and 1 in 12 have actually made a suicide plan.”
Hines said he wants to compel people to look at mental illnesses through a different lens. Suicidal tendencies, he said, are often linked to brain maladies and someone suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts should be able to seek help without feeling ashamed.
“I have come a long way from my suicide attempt and I want people, especially students, to know it’s O.K. to ask for help when struggling with a psychological disorder of mental health issues,” Hines said.
Tonight’s free event is sponsored by Active Minds, a UCSB mental health advocacy program.
The counseling center at UCSB as well as a free 24-hour hotline is available to all students struggling with suicidal thoughts. Other services provided by UCSB include free weekly conferences with a social worker as well as free student health insurance and psychiatric counsel. Individuals seeking confidential help can contact a counselor at (805) 893-4411.