Suicide and mental health aren’t easy topics to address, but talking about them could help a lot of people. That’s the point Kevin Hines made in presentations at all of Blue Valley’s high schools last week.
Hines told students about his personal experiences, outlining his struggle with bipolar disorder and, at age 19, his attempt to commit suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.
He survived the jump against enormous odds. Now he travels the world telling his story and hoping he can help others who might feel the way he once did.
During his recovery, a friar approached him at church with an offer to speak to middle school students during his initial recovery, but Hines wasn’t sure he had something to say.
Now he tells people about his early life, when he was neglected by drug-addicted parents, of the wonderful adoptive parents he had and the difficulties he encountered when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 17.
Steve and Karen Arkin, parents of Blue Valley Northwest graduate Jason Arkin, gave a donation to pay for Hines’ presentations through the Blue Valley Educational Foundation. They lost Jason to suicide in May, after he struggled with depression for several years.
Hines encouraged students to notice classmates going through difficult times and to support them, ask if they’re OK and not make the troubles worse.
One particularly poignant moment of Hines’ story was about the day he jumped off the bridge. He talked about how he rode a packed bus there, visibly in emotional distress, but no one asked him if he was OK. Then, as he stood on the bridge deciding whether to jump, a woman approached him, but it was to ask him to take her picture.
Hines impressed on his audience that he had made a pact with himself that if someone on the bus or on the bridge asked if he was OK, he wouldn’t jump. No one asked, and he jumped.
At a previous speaking engagement, a girl approached Hines, crying. She told him, “I was going to kill myself yesterday, but I said (to myself), ‘Just go to the speech. Go to the speech,’” Hines said.
Similar scenes play out at many of the venues where Hines shares his story.
These presentations help “to show them that it’s OK to talk about their mental pain and that there are people surrounding them, especially at schools that bring someone like me in, that care so much that they’re going to be there for them when they’re struggling,” Hines said.
Too many students keep everything bottled up inside because of “that fear, that shame that follows mental struggles, that battle inside of, ‘Do I say anything to anyone?’ for fear they’ll lock me up and throw away the key or fear they’ll ostracize me or alienate me from their lives or for fear I’m just a burden,” Hines said.
His purpose in giving these presentations at high schools, Hines said, is to show students that there is hope, and they can heal.
After his presentation Thursday at Blue Valley High School, the crowd of about 1,600 students gave him a standing ovation and a quite a few students stayed behind to talk with him.
“It seemed like the positive message that he provided about resiliency and self-care really seemed to strike home with many kids,” said Mark Schmidt, executive director of student services for Blue Valley. “Sometimes bringing in someone like Kevin to really highlight the message is important.”
The school increased counseling support for the day so that students who felt they needed to speak with someone after his talk had plenty of opportunities.
“There were a lot of people around me (at the assembly), and they were showing emotion, and that doesn’t typically happen when speakers come here. … It was special to have someone to come and be real,” said Blue Valley High School student Ally Gillam, 17.