Taylor Batten

He survived a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Now he builds safety nets for others.

Kevin Hines survived a plunge off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Kevin Hines survived a plunge off the Golden Gate Bridge. Courtesy of Kevin Hines

Kevin Hines couldn’t take it any more. The voices inside his head had won. They kept telling him he was a horrible person and that he had to die, and he believed them. He didn’t want to die; he thought he had no choice.

He ran toward the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge, catapulted himself over it, then jumped off the ledge.

He fell head-first, 220 feet, at 75 miles per hour toward the frigid water of the San Francisco Bay. He instantly regretted it and prayed for survival in midair. The impact shattered his back, the shards of his vertebrae piercing his organs.

Some 2,000 people have killed themselves jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Thirty-six have survived a jump, including Hines.

Hines, who suffers from bipolar disorder, will be in Charlotte on May 1 and 2 to tell his story, to help people suffering from mental illness and to help raise awareness in Charlotte about the disease. His visit is part of a series planned by Charlotte’s HopeWay mental health care center. The nonprofit hopes to increase the community’s understanding of mental health issues and to help overcome the stigma associated with mental illness.

What makes Hines’s story extraordinary is not only what happened when he jumped on Sept. 25, 2000, but on how he has spent the years since.

On Good Friday of 2001, six months after his jump, Hines told his story to a group of 7th and 8th graders at his church. Afterward, he received 120 letters from the kids thanking him, including from some who had been having suicidal thoughts of their own and got help as a result of his talk.

“I read the letters and I was blown away,” Hines told me last week. “I said to my dad, ‘We have to do this however, wherever and whenever possible.’” He has since become a leading international speaker and advocate for mental health.

The message he’ll deliver in Charlotte?

“Hope helps heal. … Just because today is painful doesn’t mean tomorrow will be,” Hines said. “It’s about finding hope in dark places, finding the ability to continue while suffering.”

Hines is an enormous success and highly effective, yet continues to wrestle with bipolar disorder, paranoia, depression, hallucinations and panic attacks.

“I do a plethora of things everyday to stay stable enough to keep moving forward,” he said. “I’m not better. I’m doing better because I work extremely hard just to get on an even keel.”

HopeWay’s effort to raise awareness is important. Despite progress, the illness is still widely misunderstood. Nearly 60 percent of adults with a mental illness didn’t receive treatment in the previous year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. More than twice as many people die from suicide as homicide each year in North Carolina. Yet access to care pales compared to those with physical ailments.

Officials in San Francisco cut a ribbon Thursday for an effort to add safety nets extending 20 feet out from the bridge along its full 1.7-mile length.

Hines played a role in helping secure the funding. He knows that safety nets save lives. Unfortunately, for too many suffering from mental illness in North Carolina and the nation, there is no safety net to catch them when they fall.

HopeWay, thankfully, is starting to change that in Charlotte.

For tickets to see Kevin Hines, go to hopewayfoundation.org. If you have suicidal thoughts, call the national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273 8255.