FARGO – On Sept. 24, 2000, Kevin Hines became a member of the 1 percent–not for his wealth but because he was among the few to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and survive.
Since his brush with death, the San Francisco native has made it a mission to offer hope to others suffering from mental illness.
Hines, now 33, will discuss his story at 7 p.m. Thursday at ecce gallery in Fargo.
It's the first big local event to mark National Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 7-13, leading up to the 10th annual American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness walk Sept. 13.
'People need hope'
Hines was 17 when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features.
"I feared that they were in essence going to lock me up and throw away the key," he said.
At the time, Hines said he wanted to go back to the person he used to be. He dreaded having to follow restrictive treatments, and said he "was a mess" by the time he jumped from the bridge two years later.
As soon as his hands left the railing, he thought it was too late, even if he regretted what he had done. Somehow, Hines survived the 220-foot fall and began a long journey toward recovery-both mentally and physically-after he shattered multiple vertebrae and suffered serious injuries.
During his hospital stay, a chaplain encouraged Hines to talk about his experience. Following a stay in a psychiatric ward, Hines went to church and was told by the priest he should speak to local middle schoolers.
His father agreed, and Hines was up until 3 a.m. writing the speech he would give to 120 students that day in 2001.
He was unsure if it had helped until he received letters from each student, many of them opening up to the stranger about their own struggles.
Hines said the experience taught him he could help by speaking out. The past 15 years haven't been easy, and he's been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward seven times, most recently in 2011.
But he's found a way to live healthy. Hines got married, wrote a memoir in 2013 and has spoken to hundreds of thousands of people, becoming nationally known as a leading advocate.
It's not just about telling his story. Whenever he speaks, Hines invites audience members to share their personal stories.
He said he's witnessed people disclose their own mental illness to loved ones who hadn't known about it. He's also heard from people who pledged to get help after his speech.
"It's the most cathartic thing I've ever experienced over and over again because people need hope and they sometimes need somebody else other than their father or mother, other than their best friend, to show them that they can find it," he said.
The message of hope is an important one to Mary Weiler, too.
The chairwoman of the North Dakota AFSP chapter and a member of the national AFSP board said the Out of the Darkness walk is a time to celebrate the work that has been done to save lives.
The annual walk was first held in 2006 with about 240 participants. Last year, more than 1,100 were there.
"It's opening up the doors to all of those who have been affected in some way," she said.
While the event itself is important, Weiler said the money this fundraiser brings in is vital for research and development of new programs to help those who have been affected by suicide and prevent more suicides.
Tammy Monsebroten, suicide prevention coordinator for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fargo, helped organize a panel discussion taking place at noon on Sept. 8 at the VA featuring four local survivors of suicide loss who will tell their stories and dispel myths about this loss.
"When we better understand the facts, I think we can do a better job at talking about suicide and suicide prevention," she said.
The VA has made strides on this issue in recent years, she said, and the panel will help medical staff learn how to talk to patients about mental health and treatment options.
"We know that people who die by suicide have not always reached the mental health clinics, so whether the veteran is coming in for a hearing aid or an X-ray, I want that staff member to be able to say, 'Looks like you're not doing so well today,' and be able to initiate that conversation," she said.
The 10th annual Out of the Darkness community walk in Fargo takes place Sept. 13, wrapping up several local events during National Suicide Prevention Week Sept. 7-13.
• Kevin Hines, an author and nationally known mental health advocate, will tell his story at 7 p.m. at ecce gallery, 216 Broadway N., Fargo; free to attend.
• Dispelling the Myths: A Survivor of Suicide Loss Perspective, panel discussion featuring four survivors of suicide loss sharing their stories and answering questions, noon to 1 p.m. at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 2101 Elm St. N., Fargo; free and open to the public.
• Flute Stories with Deb Harris, solo concert by a member of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, 7 p.m. at ecce gallery; $15 suggested donation with all proceeds going toward suicide prevention efforts and the local AFSP chapter.
• Out of the Darkness Fargo-Moorhead community walk, registration at 1 p.m., opening ceremonies at 2 p.m. and walk at 2:30 p.m. at Lindenwood Park, 1905 Roger Maris Drive, Fargo, with a keynote speech by Irish activist Breifne Earley; visit www.outofthedarkness.org for more information or to make a donation.
Warning signs of suicide
The more signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide:
• Talking about wanting to die
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increased use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated or reckless
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings
What to do
If someone you know shows warning signs:
• Don't leave the person alone
• Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
• Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255). Press 1 to access the Veterans Crisis Line, text at 838255 or visit www.veteranscrisisline.net
• Take the person to an emergency room, seek help from a medical or mental health professional or call 911