I have known some aspects of Kevin Hines’ incredible story of surviving a jump from the Golden Gate bridge since I saw the documentary The Bridge in 2006. He has since become a powerful mental health advocate and well-known speaker. When I heard that the North Dakota Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention had invited him out to speak in Fargo this year, I was absolutely thrilled.
When I saw his talk last week, I was moved by Kevin’s honesty, depth of knowledge, compelling storytelling, compassion, humor, and message of hope. Eager to learn more about his story, I bought his book, Cracked, Not Broken. The book impacted me on many levels, both personally and professionally. Here are four of my favorite aspects of the book:
- Kevin’s story is honest about what it’s like for him to live with a chronic mental illness (bipolar disorder). I feel that people who misunderstand the nature of mental illness might believe that once something as dramatic and miraculous as being a rare survivor of a Golden Gate bridge jump occurs, a person has restored hope, and all is well. Kevin makes it clear that the struggle did not end there. At times, he continued to experience suicidal ideation and other symptoms to the point of needing hospitalization in the years following. His perseverance and ability to thrive through continued struggles is inspirational.
- His description of a mental disorder as something that a person has rather than something that a person is is very effective and will certainly help me in communicating this message to students and clients in the future. For example, Kevin talks about how he did not want to die by suicide, but his mental illness took over and led him to think and believe things that were untrue.
- Societal stigma contributes to the desire to deny that we ourselves or people we care about are afflicted by mental illness, which creates obstacles to wellness. When courageous people like Kevin share their experiences, it makes others more comfortable with speaking openly and asking for help. In his book, Kevin says that it is likely that he would have been functioning better sooner if he followed the mental health treatment plan given to him after first being diagnosed. There were many factors that most of us can relate to that contributed to his denial (as he refers to it), and I think this is helpful for generating compassion for loved ones and clients who struggle with acceptance too.
- Expanding on my first point, stories of change and success are often oversimplified. They are boiled down to one key magical element that forever changed a person and the course of their life. Kevin tells his story in a manner that accurately reflects the complexity of living with mental illness. He highlights the many factors that maximize his chances of thriving (e.g., medication, therapy, adequate sleep, healthy eating, regular exercise, not using alcohol or nonprescribed drugs, social support, his faith). Kevin talks about how much work it is for him to stay well and that despite his commitment to wellness, outside factors sometimes interfere (e.g., a medication stops working). He has plans for dealing with those situations too (e.g., reaching out to a trusted love one, going to the hospital). I wish it wasn’t so hard to stay well for people afflicted by mental illness, but I appreciate Kevin’s honesty about the numerous factors involved.
If you get a chance to see Kevin talk, I highly recommend it. You can also see some of his presentations by searching his name on youtube. His book is available on Amazon. I’ll close with a music video for a song that I learned about from his book. It’s based on his life, and he is featured in the video: