Grief Ripples Out, But So Does Hope

Trigger warning:  this post discusses a suicide attempt. 

In September of 2000, 19-year-old Kevin Hines attempted to take his life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. He had been struggling with paranoia, hallucinations, and depression, he had been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, and he had been convinced that he was a burden to all those who loved him. He saw only one way to escape his pain.  

Still, just as he launched himself into free fall, Kevin felt instant regret. 

 God, please save me, he thought. I don’t want to die. I made a mistake. 

Statistics show that one person goes to the Golden Gate Bridge to attempt suicide every 7 to 10 days, with over 98% of these attempts being fatal. The bridge has been nicknamed “the suicide magnet of the world.” It is estimated that only 26 people have survived the jump, one being Kevin Hines. Most will say they felt the same regret as Kevin – they didn’t really want to die.

    For twenty years since that day, Kevin has dedicated his life to using his story to inspire hope in others struggling with mental health challenges. Suicide: The Ripple Effect offers a glimpse into Kevin’s life before and after his jump, chronicling his world-renowned career in advocacy and motivational speaking, and his personal journey through mental health and healing.  

On the day of his suicide attempt, Kevin’s father came to see him in the hospital. Through heavy sobs, they immediately apologized to one another. Kevin recalls the conversation for Marcus Butler, a retired US Coast Guard officer who came to his rescue that day, as the two float under the Golden Gate bridge in a small motorized boat. 

    “Both of our immediate reactions for what I did there,” Kevin laments, looking up at the bridge, “Was guilt.”  

    Guilt, followed by rage and fear. Later, Kevin recalls how much rage his suicide attempt had sparked in the people he loved; he recalls the pain and the grief all around him. He once asked his father, years after the jump, if he still feared Kevin’s death by suicide. His response? Every time the phone rings. 

    “My actions did that,” Kevin laments. He imagines his father’s intense anxiety as he feels his cell phone buzz in his pocket.

It’s true that Kevin’s suicide attempt brought much grief into the lives of his loved ones. It’s true, too, that his survival, and his willingness to share his story, has inspired so much progress in mental health advocacy and in the lives of countless struggling people.

Among the many dedicated advocacy workers Kevin meets throughout the film is one crisis line counselor in Georgia, who happens to be a big fan. He had heard Kevin tell his story at a pivotal moment in his life.

“You saved my life, man,” he says earnestly. The two share a long, warm embrace. 

Kevin has also inspired Christy Frecceri, a trauma nurse, to speak at conventions around the country about Golden Gate Bridge jumpers. She tended to Kevin in the hospital following his suicide attempt. She was shocked to read Kevin’s chart and discover what had happened to him. 

“I hadn’t ever thought of such a thing in my career,” she says to Kevin, remembering that fateful day that changed both of their lives. She hopes to use Kevin’s story to educate other nurses about caring for a patient who has experienced physical and mental trauma. 

    “They call that the Ripple Effect,” Kevin says, smiling down at Frecceri’s presentation notes. 

Likewise, Kevin’s father Patrick Hines became involved with the Bridge Rail Foundation, a non profit organization dedicated to erecting a suicide deterrent barrier along the Golden Gate Bridge. It is personal for many participants, having lost a child, a spouse, or a friend to suicide by bridge-jumping. 

“They’re not going there to die in front of a beautiful bridge,” says Kevin of the bridge-jumpers, “They’re going because of a four-foot rail; because it’s easy.”

Most large buildings and high public attractions have suicide barriers – the Eiffel Tower does, as well as the Empire State Building – but the initial proposal to install such a structure at the Golden Gate Bridge was met with criticism. Patrick Hines says the main reason was preserving the bridge’s beauty. Still, according to the Bridge Rail Foundation’s blog, suicide deterrent structures will soon be installed at the Golden Gate Bridge.

     Experts interviewed throughout The Ripple Effect emphasize that restricting access to physical means is just one piece of the prevention puzzle. We also need to change how we talk about suicide, and how we support one another in our journeys to mental wellness.

David Covington, President of American Association of Suicidology, criticizes our culture for waiting until we lose a struggling individual to suicide to talk about it. 

“I think we have many, many more examples of people who’ve found a way to survive, to cope, to find supports, and in some cases even thrive,” says Covington, “But we’re not telling those stories.” He expresses his admiration for Kevin, who has used his survival story to touch other struggling individuals, and give them the hope to choose living. “I think there’s a huge opportunity as we talk about stories of survival to support people who are out there who are in pain,” Covington says.  

    Kevin Hines knows that hope is not an action plan, but it is a necessary starting point. 

    “If you can give a hopeless person hope, they can turn a corner,” he says.  Now Kevin is equipped with the emotional tools and the loving support he needs to manage his symptoms, though his Bipolar disorder has not gone away.  He is seen throughout the film sharing embraces with his wife, father, and friends. 

“He actually goes through something — whether it’s mania, or depression, or paranoia, or suicidal ideation — something, every day there’s something,” Kevin’s wife, Margaret Hines, says of his life now. “But because he is taking care of his wellness, he manages it so well. He has a support system — me, our friends, our family — and he knows that he’s always in a safe place.” A mobile phone video plays of Kevin, formally dressed, dancing in the aisle of a pharmacy. 

Though Suicide: The Ripple Effect engages with some heavy subjects, it is not a somber film. Kevin Hines teaches us that some good can come out of the trauma and tragedy of suicide. We feel the “ripple” of suicide for better and for worse: a whole community grieves one fatal attempt, but one recovery can inspire hope in so many struggling people. The Ripple Effect is an earnest, tender, enlightening watch — and Kevin hopes that it’s the beginning of a movement. 

“No matter the pain you’re going through today, or the people you love are going through today, they can have a better tomorrow,” says Kevin. 

To learn more about suicide prevention worldwide, visit the Ripple Effect web page here

Rent The Ripple Effect on iTunes or Amazon. See Kevin tell his story for Buzzfeed here

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