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Recite, repeat, believe: I will not die by my own hand

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Kevin Hines, brain/mental health advocate and storyteller, dedicates his life to saving lives by spreading the message of hope and sharing his art of living mentally well. He attempted to take his life by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. He is one of only 34 to survive the fall, and one of five to regain full physical mobility. (Courtesy Photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, so for this year’s Wingman Day, the 21st Space Wing on Peterson Air Force Base will host Kevin Hines as the guest speaker Friday, May 17, 2019. Hines has been a mental health and suicide prevention advocate for almost 20 years. His work with the U.S. military stretches back to 2008, and he’s since received over 30 military excellence medals as a civilian and was recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

His work began in 2000, when he attempted suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. He is one of only 39 people who have survived the fall in 80 years.

“I am one of only five to get the privilege to stand, walk and run, one of five to regain full physical mobility,” he said. After seven months of physical and psychiatric rehabilitation, he gave his first speech on his experience.

Hines spends at least 15 weeks per year directly supporting the military. His general message concerns survival and overcoming pain, but he adjusts the specifics of his presentations to his audience. When he speaks to service members, he talks more about being a leader during high school in both football and wrestling. He also stresses that talking about pain does not make a person weak but strong.

“The misconception I feel I see the most is that [suicidal] people are just crazy,” he said. It’s an easy narrative that can stigmatize those who seek help for suicidal thoughts and mental illness. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly before his suicide attempt, but he says he does not suffer from mental illness. Rather, he prefers to say people live with mental illness, a term he believes gives more power to fight, whether it’s bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or any other obstacle.

“I firmly believe that pain is inevitable,” he says. “Suffering is optional… [I’m] changing the narrative to ‘I live with this disease, I fight this disease or this pain, and I will survive it at any cost.’”

He noted that his presentations get the strongest responses from high school students and service members, who he says get the most involved. For the military in particular, he’s developed a call-and-response chant, a promise not to die by one’s own hand and to fight the pain in spite of it.

“To recite, repeat, believe that you will never take your life has great meaning to these young officers who are hurting inside,” he says.

Hines will speak at the base auditorium on Friday, May 17, presenting to the 21st Medical Dental Group and 21st Wing Staff Agency from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., and to the 21st Mission Support Group and 21st Operations Group from 10 to 11 a.m.

For more information, contact Jess Schroeder, community support coordinator, at 556-6768, or Michel Cremeans, violence prevention integrator, at 556-2835.
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