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Suicide prevention advocate shares his story with New England Public School students

Suicide prevention activist Kevin Hines spoke to New England Public School students Monday. Hines' message to the students was to encourage them to seek help if they’re struggling and that they don’t have to suffer in silence.

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Motivational speaker Kevin Hines speaks to New England Public School students about suicide prevention on Monday. (Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press)

Kevin Hines is a mental health advocate and motivational speaker who shares his story all over the country. His efforts helped secure funding for a safety net beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in 2019 to prevent suicidal people from jumping — like he did. This week, Hines brought his story to the Western Edge in New England to a community in mourning.

Hines spoke to seventh through 12th grade students at 2 p.m. Monday at the New England Public School, and then shared his talk with the community later at 6 p.m. in the school's gymnasium.

Hines said he was born to drug addicted parents who neglected and malnourished him. They lived in a cheap motel in San Francisco. When a motel worker called the police, Hines and his older brother were placed into foster care, where his brother later died. At 9 months old, he was adopted.

Hines struggled with mental illness and hallucinations through his adolescence but always kept it a secret. In September 2000 when Hines was 19, he became convinced by voices in his head that he needed to commit suicide.

The day he decided to do it, he went into his father’s bedroom at 6:30 a.m. and told his father he loved him. His father was worried about his son said, asking if he was alright and if he wanted to come to work with him that day.

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Hines explained this is an insufficient approach to addressing a potentially suicidal person.

“My father, through no fault of his own, did not ask, ‘Kevin, are you thinking of killing yourself?' — which does not put the thought in someone’s mind if it’s not already there. That’s a myth. It gives them permission to speak on their pain,” Hines said, adding this is the first of three questions the nonprofit mental health organization Crisis Text Line recommends asking.

Crisis Text Line encourages people to then ask, "Have you made plans to take your life?" The mental health organization recommends people to pause and wait for the other person to respond. Finally, the third question is, "Do you have the means?" Then pause and wait for an answer.

“The Crisis Text Line’s algorithm has determined that by asking these three questions in that order, can prevent suicide more times than not,” Hines said.

Hines told New England students that if they received a yes to any of the three, they need to help the person find a safe place and a qualified adult for guidance. One of the driving factors behind his suicide attempt was being bullied throughout his time as a grade school and high school student.

“If you happen to be in this room and you’ve ever bullied anybody else… I’m going to ask you nicely, consider what you’re doing and why you’re doing it... Something is going on with you that’s leading you to hurt others,” Hines said. “I’m asking you to consider, not telling you what to do, asking you to consider changing your ways and apologizing to those you’ve hurt.”

Hines also urged those who’ve been bullied to consider forgiving the person who hurt them because they don’t know what that individual has gone through.

Continuing with the story of his suicide attempt, Hines said when he got on the bus to go to the Golden Gate Bridge, he cried and began yelling out loud at the voices in his head.

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“All I was doing was hoping, wishing and praying that one person would see me, see my pain and say something kind and compassionate. I was ready to tell them everything I couldn’t tell my dad that morning,” Hines said. “The man to my left pointed at me with his thumb and asked the fella next to him, ‘What the hell’s wrong with that kid?’ That’s what’s wrong with so much of society today. It’s this innate human ability we have to see someone, anyone, in the greatest lethal emotional pain they’ve ever experienced and feel nothing for them but fear of them and apathy towards them.”

Hines considers his survival something of a miracle.

“When I fell to the waters off the Golden Gate Bridge, a sea lion came to my aid and kept me afloat until the Coast Guard arrived. That’s my personal miracle,” he said. “I named him Herbert.”

He encouraged students to have faith in their ability to overcome pain and told them they are stronger than they think.

“Mr. Hines had a very good message and I hope you take it to heart,” New England Principal Lori Fitterer said before dismissing the students. “We love and care about you very much.”

Hines spent some time after the assembly talking with several students who felt moved by what he said. He encouraged anyone struggling with pressing mental health issues or suicidal thoughts to utilize the Crisis Text Line by texting “CNQR” to 741-741. They can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge. His reporting focuses on Stark County government and surrounding rural communities.
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