‘All I Wanted Was To Live’: Survivor Shares The Ripple Effects Of Suicide

Kevin Hines’ story is not defined by his suicide attempt but by what came after.

Warning: This story contains discussion of suicide and suicidal thoughts. 

As soon as Kevin Hines’ hands left the rail of the Golden Gate Bridge, all he wanted was to live.

“In seconds, there was instant regret from my actions. Instant regret,” the world-renowned mental health advocate told ten daily.

It was 2000, and Hines, 19, was living with psychosis and bipolar disorder.

Kevin Hines survived a suicide attempt in 2000 Image: Suicide: The Ripple Effect
“I was hearing voices in my head that were telling me I was useless, worthless, not meant for this world and a burden to everyone who loved me,” he said.

“That’s what led me to the Golden Gate.”

Hines is one of more than 2000 people to make a suicide attempt from the bridge since its opening 81 years ago. He's one of just 36 to survive and one of just five who have gone on to walk again.

Today, he is on a mission to reduce global suicide rates, sharing his message of hope and recovery through a documentary being screened in Australia.

‘It felt like I was submerged underwater’

Suicide remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44. For every death by suicide, it’s estimated as many as 30 people make an attempt, according to the most recent ABS statistics.

Hines believes globally we are faced with a lack of resilience in the face of mental pain -- something that is not only difficult to describe but to comprehend.  

For Hines, it feels like being underwater.

“Every day, I would skyrocket into a manic high and come crashing into these dark holes of depression,” he explained. “It felt like I was submerged underwater and couldn’t surface.”

“You feel such an immeasurable darkness that you cannot see what is in front of you. You feel so isolated and that no one can comprehend what you’re going through.

"Today, I recognise that 15 million people live with bipolar disorder.”

Hines hadn’t slept properly for about two weeks on the day of his suicide attempt. At six o’clock that morning, he went into his father’s room, startling him awake.

“He asked me what was wrong. I said nothing, and told him I loved him,” he said.

No one knew of his struggle, including his father, a “stoic, pragmatic, pessimistic” man who only wanted the best for his family. That morning, Hines was filled with shame.  

“I really wanted to tell him, but I couldn’t get the words out. Every time I tried, the auditory hallucinations I was having stopped me,” he said.

Since 1937, more than 2,000 people have died at the Golden Gate Bridge.

Hopping on a bus after college, Hines sat in the back row “hoping, wishing and praying that one human being would be intuitive enough to see (his) pain."

“I would have told that person everything,” he said.

Instead, he and the bus driver were the last ones standing.

“He motioned to me to get off the bus, and I walked across a two-mile stretch, crying. Even police officers searching for suicidal people walked right by me," said Hines.

"Today, those officers are trained on the bridge and save between 52 and 75 lives a  year."

Hines has an unlikely tale of survival. Resurfacing from the water after crushing his T1, T2, L1 and L2 vertebrae, he thought to himself, “I’m going to die here."

“This has been recounted all over the world by hundreds and thousands of people who have attempted suicide and survived,” he said. “They all say they have this instant regret.”

“The think they have to die but when they come face to face with death, all they want to do is live.”

‘I’m in recovery every day’

Eighteen years later, after complex back surgery and time in and out of psychiatric wards,  Hines is living with bipolar disorder, hallucinations and chronic thoughts of suicide. But he has learned to separate his thoughts from actions.

“You can never be free from mental pain. What you can be free from is this consistent thought that you have to die."

Hines is a strong advocate for mental wellbeing, using exercise, diet, music and art therapy as well as medication to manage his illness.

Kevin Hines has become a world-renowned mental health advocate. Image: Suicide: The Ripple Effect

Most importantly, he has learned to lean on his “people protectors”.

“When I have these thoughts, I immediately turn to my wife and say, I need help right now’,” Hines said.

“I’m lucky that I have a support system. For those who don’t, it’s my opinion that you have to build that for yourself.

“Find people who respect you enough to have your back when you’re in pain.”

Changing the meaning of the ‘ripple effect’

One year after his suicide attempt, Hines returned to the Golden Gate Bridge with his father, dropping a flower.

“When it hit the water, it made the tiniest ripple. Two feet to the right popped up a sea lion,” Hines said. “It was by far the most beautiful experience I have had with my father.”

This is the crux of his documentary that explores both the positive and negative ripples of suicide.

“The negative is of course losing someone by suicide and not having them back. The positive is recovery, hope and finding a way through the pain,” he said.

Joe Williams, a First Nation Wiradjuri Aboriginal man born in Cowra, appears in the documentary. Image: Suicide: The Ripple Effect

“We wanted to make a film that changed the meaning of the word, and left people high with hope.”

At time of writing, Hines’ documentary has been watched by about 15,000 people -- 120 of whom had confided they came to a screening planning their own suicide.

“These people came to us individually and told us they decided to stay.”

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression and suicide contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

​If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 000.

Featured image: Suicide: The Ripple Effects