On Tuesday, Oct. 21, West Chester University hosted Kevin Hines, a mental health advocate and suicide prevention speaker who is one of 33 to survive a suicide attempt by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Kevin Hines was born Giovanni Fetrales in 1981 to manic-depressive parents who self-medicated with drugs and alcohol in San Francisco. He and his brother had a very difficult early childhood until they were taken by Child Protective Services and put into foster care. However, in their travels from place to place, Hines’ brother caught a fatal case of bronchitis, and Hines continued on alone at less than a year old.
But all of that changed when he came into contact with Debbie Hines. Hines says that the woman who became his adopted mother swears that when she walked into the room and saw him, she “fell in love.”
Hines then “fast-forwarded” to himself at 17 years old. Hines was a wrestling champion, football player, drama club member, and the school spirit chairman. Then, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, came the paranoid delusions.
Unaware of his biological parents’ psychiatric history, Hines experienced delusions and mania. He was convinced that postal workers were trying to kill him. He went door to door in his neighborhood, campaigning for president, despite being only 17 years old. Other days, he sat on the front porch in his father’s armchair for hours, waiting for his friend “Steve” to come visit—Steven Spielberg, that is.
Over the next couple of years, Hines’ mental state worsened. He was experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations, which brought on depression. He was in therapy, where he was diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder, and he took a variety of psychiatric drugs. However, Hines was also self-medicating with alcohol, and he kept quiet about how much he was struggling.
Then something catastrophic happened. Hines’ drama teacher, his mentor and role model, killed himself. This loss solidified Hines’ belief that suicide was his destiny.
“I never wanted to die by suicide,” Hines said. “I believed I had to die by suicide.”
On Sept. 25, 2000, 19-year-old Hines wrote a suicide note. His father, who sensed something was wrong and had begged him to skip school and spend the day together, drove him to the local community college when Hines refused to stay home. After his father dropped him off, Hines went to the registrar and dropped 12 of his 15 credits, then caught a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge.
When he jumped off the bridge, Hines fell more than 200 feet into the water below. Three of his vertebrae shattered on impact, the shards of which punctured some of his organs. Hines survived the fall, but he was slowly drowning, unable to swim due to his broken back. However, a woman who saw him jump called her friend on the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard reached him very quickly. Until the Coast Guard arrived, though, Hines felt something swimming in the water near him; he was convinced it was a shark. Years later, Hines discovered that a sea lion came to his aid and kept him afloat. To further the circumstantial miracle of Hines’ survival, paramedics took him to a hospital where a world-renowned back surgeon’s shift happened to be ending, but the surgeon stayed late and reconstructed Hines’ spine. Hines, a survivor in every sense of the word, made a full physical recovery.
Mentally, however, Hines struggles with his demons to this day. He has traveled the world, speaking as a mental health advocate and suicide prevention speaker. Hines urges his audiences not to fear asking questions about mental health. Hines told the audience about a moment during the bus ride to the Golden Gate Bridge. Hines was sitting in the back of the bus, crying uncontrollably, riding to what he believed was his imminent death. Not one person on the bus asked him what was wrong.
“Asking someone if they’re suicidal will not make them suicidal,” Hines said. “‘Are you thinking about suicide? Do you have a plan?’ Saying those words is the key.”
Readers who are looking to better understand how to help people with mental health issues can attend one of two Adult Mental Health First Aid classes, presented by Chester County Mental Health/Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Chester County Department of Human Services, and the National Council on Behavioral Health. The classes are from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on either Thursday, Nov. 6 or Friday, Nov. 7 in the Phillips Memorial Building on West Chester’s campus. Readers must register by Oct. 30 at www.chesco.dhstrainings.com.
Clare Haggerty is a fourth-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at CH757342@wcupa.edu.