Before Kevin Hines walked onto a small stage yesterday to talk about catapulting himself over the handrail of the Golden Gate Bridge and falling headfirst toward the water far below, he did what has become customary.
“I pray. I meditate. I think about reaching one person in the room. Just one. And that calms my soul.”
Hines has bipolar disorder that is accompanied by psychotic features, including hallucinations that have persistently called him to death.
The 32-year-old, who still lives in San Francisco, spoke to about 120 doctors, students and others at Ohio State University. The event focused on the burden of suicide — including within hospitals — and the opportunities for medical workers, family members and others to help.
Hines was 19 when he tried to kill himself. As he fell, he prayed that he would survive. He entered the water feet-first, at an angle that spared him but left him with shattered vertebrae. A sea lion helped keep him above water, he said, until his rescue.
Before Hines’ descent, there were openings, moments that might have made a difference. A guidance counselor who helped him cancel all but one of his college courses on the morning of his jump and didn’t ask why or whether he was OK. A bus on its way toward the bridge, full of strangers who whispered and watched as tears slid down his face.
He wanted someone on that bus to say something, to pull him off the path to his death. He wanted a woman who approached him on the bridge to save him, but she just asked him to take her picture.
The moments of opportunity for those around a person contemplating suicide aren’t always as obvious as “I want to die,” but they are plentiful if you pay attention and ask the right questions, said Daniel Reidenberg, a psychologist who is managing director of the National Council for Suicide Prevention and executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
But even doctors and nurses miss those clues, including increases in anxiety, difficulty making decisions, confusion and withdrawal from normal activities, said Reidenberg, who also spoke yesterday.
The reasons they don’t ask whether a person is thinking of death are many, he said. They might be busy, or afraid that they aren’t well-trained to manage such matters. They might not think they will be able to get the person into appropriate treatment if the answer is “yes.”
Reidenberg stressed to the attendees yesterday that they must ask the questions directly and not give up after they hear one halfhearted “no.”
Not nearly enough attention is given to suicide, said Dr. John Campo, chairman of Ohio State’s department of psychiatry.
“In a nutshell, I think that both in our society and in medicine, our priorities are out of joint,” he said.
About 38,000 people in the U.S. die by suicide annually. There’s an attempt every 32 seconds, or 960,000 attempts each year.
Hines remembers the first time he understood the value of talking about his mental illness. He’d spoken to more than 100 schoolchildren and received as many letters of gratitude in return. A handful of the children told Hines they were suicidal.
“They all got the help they needed,” Hines said. “I had something to do with that.”
To reach the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Hotline, call 614-221-5445; the Teen Suicide Prevention Hotline, 614-294-3300; or the Lifeline national organization for suicide prevention, 1-800-273-8255.
By Misti Crane - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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