Kevin Hines, then 19 years old, asked his dad to drop him off at City College on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco on September 25, 2000. Though it wasn’t often, he hugged his dad goodbye because he thought it would be the last time he saw him.
Hines was still having severe mood swings, paranoia, and depressive episodes even after years of seeing a psychiatrist and taking many medications. Three days before, his girlfriend broke up with him, and earlier that year, his beloved drama teacher ki*lled herself. During the weekend, Hines had hallucinations and heard voices telling him to kil*l himself, so he made up his mind to do it.
For his last meal, he had Skittles and Starbursts. Then he took the bus to the Golden Gate Bridge. He said he cried as he crossed the parking lot to get to a certain part of the bridge, hoping that he wouldn’t hit a column on the way down. He took a picture of a German tourist who asked him to. He then jumped.
Hines told SFGate in 2005 that he changed his mind as soon as he went over the guardrail.
He thought, “Oh, shit,” at that moment. “Please don’t ki*ll me!”
Only about 35 people have ever lived after jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, and Hines is one of them. The drop to the water is 220 feet, which is about 25 stories. He fell headfirst at about 75 miles per hour and hit the water four seconds after jumping.
“The impact sent shockwaves through my legs and broke my T12, L1, and L2,” Hines recently told Mark Dohner on YouTube. The T12, L1, and L2 are all parts of vertebrae. “For a short time, I couldn’t move my legs. I went 70 feet below the water’s surface. When I woke up, all I wanted to do was live.”
To get to the surface, Hines swam instead of legs. He was having a hard time staying afloat because his boots were wet, and he saw something moving around below him.
“”You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought. “I didn’t die off the Golden Gate Bridge, and now a shark is going to eat me,” he said. “It wasn’t a shark, though.”
After many years, Hines said he learned it was a sea lion. He said that he was lying on his back on the water’s surface and that the sea lion swimming around below him and bumping him up kept him afloat. He was saved by the Coast Guard and taken to the hospital, but the injuries they fixed wouldn’t be enough. Over the next few years, he would have to go back to the hospital several times because of PTSD. He spent the next few months in the psychiatric ward at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco.
Hines has been a motivational speaker and sui*cide prevention advocate across the country for 20 years. The Clifford W. Beers Award, given by the non-profit Mental Health America in 2016, was the highest honor they could give him for his work to improve the lives of people with mental illness and raise awareness about the stigmas they face.
For Hines, it wasn’t so much that he wanted to die. “I thought I had to.” What do you do when that takes place?”
There are videos of Hines telling his story that go viral every year around the time of Su*icide Prevention Month, which is the anniversary of his jump. There are hundreds of interviews and articles about him on Google that date back to the early 2000s. Some examples are an ABC News story from 2006, a Reddit thread from 2013, a BuzzFeed article from 2015, and an article in the Sacramento Bee in 2019.
It’s also a very rare kind of viral story that makes people want to watch or read it again and again, even if they’ve seen it or heard Hines talk about it before.
“I’ve known his story for decades,” one viewer wrote under Dohner’s interview with Hines on TikTok. “But I had no idea about the sea lion.”
Another person wrote, “This man changed my life.” “It was hard for me between the ages of 17 and 18, but I’ll never forget saying, ‘I don’t want to die today.'” Thanks a lot.”
Why does Hines’s story resonate with audiences?
It is the 10th most common cause of death in the United States. It’s thought that at least 30 people jump off the Golden Gate Bridge every year. People in the U.S. have problems with mental illness like Hines does, but the fact that he is still alive is arguably nothing less than a miracle.
His story has been captivating people for 23 years because he knows what could have been the last moments of his life. This is something that everyone will either go through themselves or have seen others go through.
Erica Goldblatt Hyatt, an assistant professor and chair of psychology at Bryn Athyn College, wrote in 2018 that one reason Hines’ story hit home with so many is his “refreshing honesty, realism, advocacy, and appreciation of the complex conditions that contribute to mental illness.”
Hyatt wrote, “By telling his story, Hines builds a crucial bridge of hope between life and death for people caught in the pain of living with serious mental illness, hard life circumstances, and more.” “Kevin has become the link between the many parents, siblings, children, spouses, friends, and family members who did the same thing.”
The host of the podcast All About Change, Jay Ruderman, said that Hines’s story is so powerful because he was a “everyman.” He had a loving family, lived in a nice area, and was going to school. All of these things went against what people usually think about someone who is thinking about su*icide or struggling with mental illness.
In an interview with Hines in an episode airing in October 2022, Ruderman also said that Hines had helped change the way people talk about sui*cide and that the fact that his story goes viral every year served a greater purpose.
“Someone committed sui*cide” was how I learned to use the phrase as a child, but Ruderman told Hines that “someone died by sui*cide” is now better known. “Deciding to k*ill yourself is not something you do on purpose.” It’s kind of having power over you.”
“Language does matter,” agreed Hines. “Now we say ‘died by su*icide’ to honor the person who died and to let people who have thought about doing it know they’re not alone and that their lives matter.”