Kevin Hines, whose suicide prevention presentations have garnered him national accolades, speaks to high school students in the Fort Jennings gym last Thursday - Putnam Sentinel
Kevin Hines, whose suicide prevention presentations have garnered him national accolades, speaks to high school students in the Fort Jennings gym last Thursday. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)

PUTNAM COUNTY — Last Thursday, a program postponed late last year due to weather was presented to high school students in all nine county school districts. The subject matter — typically shunned in courteous discourse, but of increasing societal concern both nationally and locally — covered suicide and bullying.

Mental health professionals at both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Mental Health describe suicide in the United States as a “crisis” and reports by both agencies cite significant increases — over 30 percent nationally — in suicides across all metrics. In 2016 alone, nearly 45,000 Americans took their own lives, over twice the number of homicides in the same period.

“Suicide is a leading cause of death in the US,” the CDC report states. “Suicide rates increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016. Mental health conditions are often seen as the cause of suicide, but suicide is rarely caused by any single factor. In fact, many people who die by suicide are not known to have a diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.”

With these considerations in mind, and with the financial assistance of the ADAMHS board and the Ottawa-Glandorf Rotary Club, all nine Putnam County school districts worked together to proactively address this growing crisis. To that end, they solicited the help of Kevin Hines, a nationally recognized suicide prevention speaker, to come and address the county’s high school students in two separate programs: the first at 10 a.m. at Fort Jennings High School, and the second at Ottawa-Glandorf.

Born in squalor to parents who battled drug addiction and burdened with crippling mental health issues, including acute bipolar disorder, Hines is no stranger to the dark mental processes that make suicide seem like not only an option, but the option. At 19, he scaled San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and threw himself off. Despite his best effort — the 245 foot drop generates speeds of 75 miles per hour and an impact that’s described as equivalent to “the force of a speeding truck meeting a concrete building” — the man survived.

Hines laid bare his life, recounting the terrors of his mental disorders, the bleak circumstances of his first year of life, and the bullying — teen suicide’s dark sibling — he endured from an early age.

“I didn’t try to die by my hands because of something outside of me,” Hines told those assembled, pounding out the facts of his life, his truth, with the energy of a man who knows he is blessed. “I tried to die from my hands because of something deep-rooted inside of me. Pain. Excruciating, devastating, epic, unrelenting lethal emotional pain. That’s why I tried to die by my hands. I attempted to take my life on the Golden Gate Bridge, where 3,000 people have died, and only 39 have survived that fall. I would become one of only five to regain mobility of those 39. There are only five of us, suicide at Golden Gate Bridge survivors, who can stand, walk, and run as a gift from God. You don’t have to believe. I do.”

Then, with a wisdom born of experiences most only visit in nightmares, Hines spoke his truth.

“Pain is inevitable,” he said, fist clenched at his side, then added, his hand springing open, “Suffering is optional.”

That recognition of a universal bond — pain — seemed to resonate with those present, students and faculty alike. The understanding that individual pain need not inevitably lead to isolation and despair, that we are each shaped by our individual circumstances, but defined by our individual will — that “suffering is optional” — created a completely different common dynamic.

And here Hines moved his story in a new direction, to treatment, to self-actualization, to redemption, and finally to love and family and purpose.

Throughout this latter portion, Hines took every opportunity to recognize the value of individual students and teachers, to weave these same individuals into a message of positivity, of self-worth, and of life.

“Today is about finding hope and light at the end of every darkened tunnel,” Hines asserted. “After you leave here today you are not going to be crying, you’re not going to be upset, you’re not going to be sad. You’re going to be filled with light and love and empathy for everybody in this room.

“Happiness and hope. That is my goal. That is the one thing I need from you today; to give every single person in this room a spark of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel, and the idea you can survive any pain, no matter how desperate it is, or how destructive, or how horrible.”

For those in crisis, assistance is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Locally, those in need may call Pathways Counseling Center, 419-523-4300; the Mental Health, Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Board, 419-523-0027; and the Putnam County Veterans Service Commission, 419-523-4478.