April 28, 2006 — -- When Kevin Hines saw the first suicide jumper tumble over the side of the Golden Gate Bridge on the television screen, he physically shook.
"Is that what I looked like?" he said that he thought. "Is that what happened to me?"
Hines, who suffers from bipolar disorder, survived a jump from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in 2000. Watching "The Bridge" -- a new documentary that captures 23 suicide jumps from the bridge in 2004 -- was difficult for him. Hines calls the controversial documentary a positive influence, and believes in the filmmakers' goal to expose the high number of suicides that take place at one locale and officials' failure to erect suicide barriers.
"It shows the truth about the fact that these are beautiful people with terrible issues that a lot of people want to just shove under the rug," the 25-year-old said. "And no longer after this movie can you shove this under the rug."
Six years ago, when Hines was in high school, he started hearing voices. His torment became so intense that he finally decided to kill himself. One day, as usual, he attended his first class, then took a bus to the bridge, crying all the way.
"I had heard that the Golden Gate Bridge was the easiest way to die. I heard that you hit the water and you're dead," Hines said. "And I remember picking the spot. This is the good spot. I'm not too close to the pillar. I won't hit the pillar. I'm not too close to the land. I won't hit the land. I'll hit the water and I'll die."
Hines stood on the bridge for 40 minutes. No one approached him to ask what was wrong. When a tourist came up and asked whether he could take her photo, Hines said that was the final straw -- clear proof that no one cared.
He took the picture, then jumped. Instantly, he realized he had made a mistake, and came up with a plan to save his life.
"It was simply this: God, save me, A. B, throw your head back. C, hit feet first," Hines said. "And I did all of that."
The impact was crushing, and Hines hurtled 40 feet underwater. Miraculously, he survived.
Hines said his decision to kill himself at the Golden Gate came down to simplicity.
"It's this simple," Hines said. "A 4-foot rail. A tall 12-year-old could fall off."
Filmmaker Eric Steel was shocked when he first read that an average of 20 people kill themselves by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge every year. He was also amazed by the lack of effort to prevent these suicides.
"Most bridges where, or high places, if it's high enough that it would be a fatal fall, have put up suicide barriers precisely for this reason," Steel said.
He was equally amazed by bridge officials' response to the suicides. At other tall, iconic structures that had become "suicide magnets," barriers had been constructed to prevent access to areas where people could jump.
These barriers drastically reduced -- and often eliminated -- suicides at landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, Italy's Duomo, St. Peter's Basilica, and Australia's Sydney Harbor Bridge, among others.
"One of the things that we noticed when we were at the bridge, when someone jumped and there's a splash in the water, within minutes, it's like nothing happened," Steel said. "The bridge has this amazing power to erase any trace of what's happened there. Just the way the water moves and the traffic moves and people keep walking."
In 2004, Hines and his crew filmed every daylight hour of the bridge for 365 days, capturing 23 of the 24 suicides that took place. He also tracked the loved ones of the jumpers to try to figure out why the suicides had happened.
"I think the suffering and the hardship is hard to quantify," Steel said. "I think it's evident in every single one of these people that it's almost like they play, play their life backwards. And they keep looking back and thinking what did I miss or what did I -- what could I have done or what if, all these different options. And I think everyone who shares their stories in the film did so out of a belief that they would make things better for one other family or two other families or 24 other families. And that generosity is really remarkable to me."
After his son's suicide attempt, Patrick Hines began a campaign to have suicide barriers erected on the Golden Gate. So far he has run into resistance.
"I don't know if I would call it resistance or ignorance, and I'm going to default to ignorance," Hines said. "I think that the electorate in about the Bay Area doesn't understand the harsh realities of the Golden Gate Bridge."
A year ago, bridge officials voted to study the feasibility of installing suicide barriers, but determined the money wasn't available.
Kevin Hines endured arduous physical rehabilitation after his near-death experience in 2000, but said dealing with his bipolar disorder had been far more difficult.
He now lives by a strict schedule, and has found a combination of drugs and therapy that allows him to regulate his manic highs and crushing depressions.
Currently, Hines is studying to get his GED. He also works with several mental health groups and suicide prevention hot lines.