Survivors of Teen Suicide Attempts on Prevention: It's Not Always About Bullying

Kevin Hines returns to the Golden Gate Bridge. (Robert Durell/TPNKevin Hines was 19 when he decided to take his own life. That morning, he told his father he was heading to school and instead took a local bus to the Golden Gate Bridge. At around 10 a.m., he catapulted over the railing and jumped.

"I don't believe anyone wants to die by suicide. What really happens is you come to a point in your mental instability where you feel you have no more options," Kevin tells Yahoo! Shine. "When I was on the bridge I was crying desperately and wanted to survive, but the voices in my head telling me to jump became louder. I firmly believe there is a big difference between wanting to die and needing to get rid of pain."

Kevin, now 32, is one of an estimated 33 survivors of suicide attempts on the Golden Gate Bridge. Now a prevention specialist and metal health advocate, he believes there's more to teen suicide prevention than just bullying awareness.

"There is no direct correlation between bullying and suicide," says Hines. "There are only people who have been bullied that die by suicide." Hines himself was bullied in grade school and he believes it contributed to his inferiority complex. "It added to my sadness and bullying needs to stop," he says. "But there are underlying issues that the media is not focusing on and people are ignoring."

On Saturday, International Survivors of Suicide Day recognizes families who have lost loved ones to suicide. Of the nearly 40,000 people who took their own lives in 2010, an estimated 10 percent were under the age of 25, according to statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even more alarming than any of those numbers is the fact that 8 out of 10 teens who do commit suicide have asked for help shortly before their attempt. Why aren't they getting the help the need?

Kevin Hines, whose story of survival has been chronicled in the New Yorker and the film "The Bridge," had spent the past two years before his attempt in treatment and on medication to control his bipolar disorder. His parents were active and involved in getting him the therapy he needed.

But Kevin says he was a master of disguising his problems. "For two years I was pretending to get well." He played high school sports, went to school and had a job.

10 signs your teen is depressed

But his own understanding of his disease was lacking. "I would binge drink on weekends, which would affect the medication, or I would feel better and stop taking it altogether," says Kevin.

Jordan Burnhan, of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, also blames his lack of medication management as a factor in his suicide attempt. In 2007, he jumped nine stories from his bedroom window. The 18-year-old had been diagnosed with depression in junior high and had since been on medication and in therapy for his mental illness.

"My parents did everything right with me, I was in therapy, we had an open communication, they were supportive," he tells Shine.

Jordan in recovery in 2007. (via Jordan Buhrnan)

But his pattern of taking his medication was erratic, and often he mixed his meds with alcohol. On the night he jumped, Jordan's father had discovered bottles of alcohol in the trunk of his car. 

"I felt like I was letting everyone down," he recalls. 

"I didn't have a plan to jump, don't even remember going out the window. I know my mom was worried and knocking on my door. On the second knock, that's when I jumped."

Jordan was given 72 hours to live, and somewhat miraculously survived, eventually learning to walk again. "I still have a limp and I hunch because of the muscle damage," he says.

Today, at 23, he is a full-time speaker on suicide prevention and his message, like Kevin's, differs from the popular "bullying" blame-game.

"I was never bullied or anything like that," he says. "I was your average student, I had a girlfriend, and I had loving parents, so I felt ashamed that I was still depressed."

To this day, Jordan is besieged with comments from people who've watched his interviews with media outlets on YouTube. "People say I didn't have it so bad."

Sleep linked to teen depression

Perhaps the stigma of mental disorders we thought we'd overcome in recent years has been thwarted by a well-meaning campaign against bullying. There is no question public cruelty has a direct effect on a person's mental health, and that prevention can improve the lives of at-risk kids. But according to some survivors of suicide attempts, there's more to self-harm than that.

"Suicide doesn't just have to only be about bullying," says Jordan. "I'm glad the media is focusing on that issue, but they go overboard in saying that it's bullying that kills. When you're at a certain depressive level it doesn't always matter about the external things going on."

He also feels that coverage of teen suicide comes with its own risks.

Jordan now visits schools to teach kids about prevention. (Via Jordan Buhrnan)

"Kids see the after-effect of the suicide of Amanda Todd and her death is getting all this media attention," he says. "They don't get the idea of the tragedy or the death itself, but that maybe they'll receive the same kind of attention."

"I've had kids send me emails saying, 'I wish I had your strength to go out the window,'" says Jordan, "and that scares me."

Instead, Jordan believes more education needs to be placed on mental illness in teens and the way medication is administered.

"One of my best friends has diabetes and when she first got her insulin pump a woman drove to her house to explain how to use," he says. "When I first went on anti-depressants they just gave me a bottle and said 'try it.' No one told me to take it on a consistent basis, and not to mix it with alcohol, and how important it is to let a physician know when a certain medication isn't working."

After their attempts, Kevin and Jordan both learned to treat their own mental illnesses as if they were physical diseases—managing their doses vigilantly, sleeping in regular cycles, and alerting close friends or family members whenever they feel unstable. 

"If you're feeling really bad it's hard to talk about it, and you need someone who understands you to ask you 'are you're okay today?'" says Kevin, who is currently writing a book on his survival story. "You find a person that almost reads your mind and you end up telling the truth."

Kevin has also developed a personal technique for combating the suicidal thoughts that still resurface today. "I keep a picture of myself when I was 2 years old in my wallet. I look at this picture and remember that kid was happy and had a great family and still does," he says. "I wrote on the back 'live for him.' When I can't handle things, I look at that picture."

There's another picture Kevin keeps for himself as a reminder of that day in September of 2000, when he almost lost his life. It's a photo captured by a stranger who saw his fall, and it serves as proof of the power of others. After jumping, he had broken so many bones he could barely keep his head above the choppy bay water. "I remember this slimy thing that kept brushing by my leg and wouldn't leave me alone." Five years later, a stranger who witnessed his fall, sent him a photo of a sea lion swimming underneath his body, keeping him afloat.

"It showed me I was supposed to live,"' says Kevin, "that I meant something."

For more resources on suicide prevention visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For support for families who have lost loved ones to suicide, visit the website for the International Survivors of Suicide Day.