On November 21, Snow College Convocations hosted guest speakers Kevin Briggs and Kevin Hines, two fervent advocates of suicide prevention. The two-hour event took place on the Richfield campus at the Sevier Valley Center. There were so many in attendance that students and families stood along the walls and balconies of the auditorium.
Kevin Briggs, also known as “The Guardian of the Golden Gate,” opened with his personal account of being a California highway patrolman beginning in 1994, a veteran of the United States Army, a cancer survivor at the age of twenty and a divorced father of two, who has also suffered from clinical depression himself.
Briggs identified the source of suicide as being mental illness and identified the causes of such illness. He listed nutrition, environment, substance abuse and genetics as factors that contribute to the condition.
He stated that it is very important to identify the symptoms of suicidal ideation, including sleeping too much, self-isolating and substance abuse. Further, if someone becomes concerned that a loved one is becoming suicidal, it is important to try to talk with them very personally about it without interrogating or blaming. Those who are suffering need to be allowed to speak freely about why. Damaging phrases such as “calm down,” “you should…,” “why…,” and “I understand” should be avoided. If a person is, in fact, suicidal, it is critical to try to let them talk openly about it and help them identify their own reasons to consider other options.
During his experiences as a highway patrolman assigned to the Golden Gate Bridge, he intervened with many individuals who were considering jumping to their deaths. It is estimated that he personally dissuaded more than 200 people from committing suicide before his retirement. He now devotes his entire career to advocating and educating about the causes and ramifications of suicide as well as its prevention. Fighting the stigma of mental illness and suicide is a crucial component of his work. He has also promoted legislation that would require mental health practitioners to become educated and certified in suicide prevention.
The following speaker was Kevin Hines, who Briggs encountered through his experiences on duty. Hines jumped before Briggs arrived on the scene. The two came to know each other in the hospital after Hines was rescued from the frigid waters.
Hines story of survival and recovery is an extraordinary one. According to his memoir, he would become the 26th person in history to survive the fall from the Golden Gate. There have been at least 2000 documented suicides from the bridge, and some estimate the number of undocumented deaths to number nearly another 2000.
After giving his introduction, Hines took a moment to clarify his position on suicide: “Let me clarify something that is often misunderstood. Suicide is not selfish. I repeat, suicide is not selfish. It is [the result of] an illness. But suicide is never the solution,” he said.
In 2000 at the age of 19, as a person who was suffering from bi-polar disorder and chronic suicidal ideations, Hines had become convinced that his life was hopeless and that the people who loved him, including his parents and girlfriend, would be better off if he did not exist. It was at this desperate time that he leapt from the bridge.
As soon as he went over the edge, Hines says he was brought to an understanding of what he had just done, regretting it instantly. During his brief four-second free-fall from the twenty-five-storey bridge at 75 miles an hour, he said to himself, “What have I done? I don’t want to die. God, please save me!”
Upon impact on the water’s surface, Hines suffered multiple injuries, including a “mangled” arm and the shattering of two lower vertebrae into shards that penetrated his internal organs. Plunging more than seventy feet, he was then immediately facing drowning but was so badly injured that he could barely swim.
What happened next was one of three “miracles,” according to Hines. He described a sea lion swimming beneath him and pushing him upwards. Once elevated to the surface, the sea lion continued to swim around him and keep him afloat, as he was unable to do so by himself. This story was corroborated by multiple witnesses atop the bridge. He was then quickly rescued by the Coast Guard and underwent emergency surgery, which narrowly saved his life.
In Hines own words:
“Tragically, I attempted to take my own life. It was the worst decision of my entire existence. It was a true blessing and a miracle that I survived. Today, it is a joy to be alive.”
The details of all that transpired are numerous and improbable, but Hines survived against the odds. His account, in full, can be read in his autobiographical work, “Cracked, Not Broken.”
Having been featured on Larry King Live, 20/20, Anderson Cooper 360 and Good Morning America, among many other programs, Hines now travels the United States sharing his story as an advocate for suicide prevention and mental illness while promoting “the art of living mentally well.” Though he still suffers from the symptoms of mental illness and chronic suicidal ideation, he has found ways to cope and lead an accomplished, fulfilling life.