It happened in the very instant that Kevin Hines felt his feet clear the railing, and his fingers slip out of reach or purchase on the ruddy lip of the Golden Gate Bridge: The voices that had tormented his 19-year-old brain in the depths of a bipolar disorder-driven depression went away and, in the sudden clarity, he felt only regret.
"As I fell 220 feet, 20 stories, in four seconds, these were the words in my mind," Hines said. "'What have I done? I don't want to die.'"
Hines survived, one of only 36 to do so out of some 2,000 to have leapt from the iconic bridge that has spanned the mouth of the San Francisco Bay since it opened in 1937. Of those still living, some having since died later of natural causes, he said, all have expressed regret over their attempt at suicide.
Hines is a gifted storyteller who has laid out the full story of that traumatic day in September 2000 to audiences all over the world and in online videos. On Thursday morning, he told it again, with great verisimilitude, at Carroll Community College for the Hope within Reach suicide awareness conference.
The conference was put together by Dawn Brown, quality improvement and prevention director at the Carroll County Health Department, and a mental health first aid instructor.
"It's been some time since we had a conference to address suicide prevention and awareness, so this was an opportunity for us to just do that again as a community," Brown said, adding she was particularly pleased to have Hines as a keynote speaker. "He shares such a message of hope, and when we are talking about mental health, and talking particularly of suicide, people don't always have hope."
The raw numbers beneath that hopelessness are sobering: More than 42,000 people took their own lives in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it the 10th-leading cause of death. There were also more than 380,000 emergency department visits due to self-inflicted injury.
The key to changing those numbers, Hines said, is hope, which he believes can not only heal, but also preserve.
"Once we lose hope, that's when suicide becomes an option," he said in an interview. "But once we gain it again, we can stay here."
There were two critical types of failure to make a connection that led Hines to attempt suicide, and hope erodes the barriers that lead to both.
His family knew of Hines' bipolar disorder and, in his story, he tells of how his father asked him numerous times that fateful day if he was OK, even offering to bring Hines to work with him.
"You think it would be that easy. Just tell him what you are going through and he will get you to help," Hines told the audience Thursday. "But what was going though my head was this auditory hallucination that was my enemy … this voice I don't understand telling me that I have to be quiet, that I have to go, that I have to do it; that it is inevitable."
Hopeless before this hallucinatory fate, Hines told his father nothing was wrong, and that he loved him. He had no hope and so he could not ask for help.
Later, on the crowded bus that would take him to the Golden Gate Bridge, Hines said he broke down, began crying and arguing out loud with the voices in his head in front of 100 people. The only reaction of those around him was one man — he gestured with a thumb and asked, "What the hell is wrong with this kid?"
That was the second failure.
"That is what is wrong with our society today," Hines said. "People who can see someone in the greatest pain in their life and react with complete apathy."
In an interview, Hines told the story of another man, in his 40s, who had gone to the Golden Gate Bridge to try and die — a story originally chronicled in the book "Why People Die by Suicide" by Thomas Joiner.
"In his note he writes, 'If one person smiles at me, I won't jump,'" Hines said. "He's gone. Nobody smiled. This man, in his mind, died for the lack of one smile. That's beyond tragic."
If someone is bleeding, you put pressure on the wound and apply a bandage. If they are choking, there is the Heimlich. In many cases, just calling 911 can make a huge difference for someone who is injured, but when it comes to mental health crisis, sometimes it's just a person being willing to engage that can save a life.
That's the idea behind the mental health first aid courses Brown teaches, and a concept she hopes those who attended Thursday's conference and those who only read about it, can take away. Mental health first aid courses are offered for free and on an ongoing basis at Carroll Community College, in partnership with the health department.
"We want to be able to have a comfortable conversation about what it means to be mentally well," she said. "We want them to be more equipped and more comfortable to talk about that, to know what to look for and be able to support those they are working with."
For Hines, if just one person who needs a message of hope can receive it and ask for help, then his efforts are worth it. But he would also ask everyone to be kinder, to pay a little more attention to each other, and to learn to recognize when others are in pain and that often all they need is a tap on the shoulder, or a smile.
"If we are one thing, we are our brother and sister's keepers. You don't have to have faith to believe that," Hines told the audience Thursday.
"We are here to give back to all those around us … those we don't even know, those we don't even like. We are here to keep each other safe. We are here to spread hope."
If you go
What: Mental health first aid course
When: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 7 and 8, or 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 6 and 7.
Carroll County Breaking News
Where: Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster
For more information on mental health services for yourself or a loved one, call the Carroll County Health Department at 410-876-4800.
If you are in mental health crisis, call:
•National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255
•Maryland Crisis Hotline, 1-800-422-0009