“I loved it!” was Michelle Lamont’s reaction to the Wednesday evening talk by suicide survivor Kevin Hines before a packed gym at Hays Middle School.
Lamont and eight of her friends drove from Smith Center to hear the 36-year-old Hines, who tried to kill himself at age 17 by diving off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. He is one of only 34 people who have survived the jump.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teen, Hines has adopted a lifestyle of exercise, healthy eating, mental health practices and therapy and an action plan for suicide prevention that his parents and friends are part of.
Lamont said the talk really hit home for her. “My daughter has tried to commit suicide several times,” she said. “His talk opened my eyes to see that it’s not just her.”
Denise Anderson, one of Lamont’s friends from Smith Center, also benefitted personally from the talk, referencing Hines’ message that people should speak up to loved ones and not be afraid to ask, “Is something wrong” or “Can I help you.”
“My cousin just lost her husband to suicide,” Anderson said, indicating it was helpful to hear the perspective of someone who has attempted to end their life and hearing how to help. “Paying attention to other people is so important. It only takes a minute to say ‘Are you ok?’”
Two Fort Hays State University students, Rachel Lund, 22, and Shylo McCulloch, 21, attended to help them with their fields of study; Lund in the nursing program and McCulloch in psychology.
“I feel like this may help me help somebody else down the road,” Lund said. “It’s hard for people to talk about this.”
McCulloch, however, said it’s also personal for her.
“I’ve also had my own struggles with suicide, depression and suicide ideation,” she said.
Julie Lipprand, Hays, came for personal reasons too.
“A lot of people in our community have been affected by mental illness and know someone who’s committed suicide or survived a suicide attempt,” Lipprand said. “I myself struggle with mental illness. I’d like to get involved with public speaking and activism work on mental health and survivors of cults.”
That kind of openness to talk about the issue is what the organizers were hoping for, said Walt Hill, executive director of High Plains Mental Health Center, Hays, one of the sponsors.
Estimating the gym holds about 1,500 people, Hill said the sponsors weren’t sure how many would attend, but they hadn’t expected such a large turnout. A number of celebrity suicides the past year has raised awareness of the issue.
“We want people to have open conversations about this,” Hill said. “We have to start talking about it to supply the resources and support for people in crisis.”
In telling his story, Hines said the mental pain that drives people to suicide is excruciating. Telling someone to “snap out of it” or “get over it” is not helpful, he said. Instead, he’s learned that “my thoughts are not my actions,” and he doesn’t have to act on his suicidal thoughts.
“I have a mental health plan,” that parents and friends have opted into, “to keep me safe when I can’t keep myself safe,” said Hines, who has said that the moment he jumped from the bridge he had “instant regret.”
It’s key for people to express to others when they are in so much pain they want to end their life.
“Do me a favor and learn from my mistakes. Never again silence your pain,” Hines said. “Suicide is not the solution to a problem. It is the problem. … A pain shared is a pain halved.” He shared with the audience a helpline number, 1-800-273-TALK.
Find your purpose, he told the audience, who gave him a standing ovation at the end of his talk.
“Today is a gift, that’s why we call it the present,” Hines said, asking each person in the audience to “be here tomorrow, and every single day after that,” and assuring “You matter to us. Stay.”
Hines tells his story in detail in his personal memoir, “Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt.”
Hines also is a filmmaker and is featured in a full-length documentary produced this year, “Suicide: The Ripple Effect.” He was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Council of Behavioral Health.
Kansas’ suicide rate is up 45 percent since 1999 — one of the highest increases nationwide, according to High Plains Mental Health Center.
Besides High Plains Mental Health Center, Hines talk was sponsored by Heartland Community Foundation, with support from Hays USD 489, Fort Hays State University’s Kelly Center, NAMI Hays, The Center for Life Experiences and Breathe Coffee House.