Mental health and suicide prevention advocate Kevin Hines urged people to find help and human connections at an event at FLCC
HOPEWELL — Kevin Hines had a question for the packed auditorium he was addressing Thursday night: How many of you are in physical, spiritual or emotional pain?
When dozens throughout the audience stood up, Hines simply replied, “I love you, please stay.”
Hines, a suicide prevention and mental health advocate, presented “Stories Save Lives” at a free public event at Finger Lakes Community College. Hundreds of people were in attendance.
In September 2000, Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It was an attempt to end his life, but Hines survived. His presentation covered coping and seeking support networks, finding purpose and the meaning of surviving and thriving.
Hines believes sharing such stories help people heal.
“All of us are just one thing — human,” he said. “If we have faith in the human condition, we can do anything.”
The event was presented by the Ontario County Suicide Prevention Coalition, a group of community advocates, schools and healthcare professionals working together to educate the community about suicide prevention.
Hines, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, said he still has thoughts about ending his life. When he does, he repeats the mantra, “My thoughts do not have to become my actions.” He also seeks immediate assistance from others, telling them “I need help now,” when having suicidal thoughts.
Suicide is a major national public health issue, Hines said.
“We are dying by our hands faster than ever before,” he said.
The only way to fight suicide is together, Hines said, adding “a lack of a communal society is tearing us apart.”
In addition to Hines’ presentation, the event included information on health and suicide prevention resources. They included the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Finger Lakes Community College Office of Community Standards & Counseling, Lakeview Health Services, Ontario County Suicide Prevention Coalition and Canandaigua VA Medical Center.
Hines spoke last year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva. His talk there was so well received, the Coalition wanted to bring him back again this year, said Christy Richards, a public health nurse and Coalition member.
Suicide rates are on the rise, especially in rural America, according to a national study published in early September, which is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. From 1999 to 2016, the rate of suicide among Americans ages 25 to 64 rose by 41 percent, researchers reported in JAMA Network Open, a monthly open access medical journal published by the American Medical Association. Rates among people living in rural counties were 25 percent higher than those in major metropolitan areas.
Among the factors driving suicide rates up in rural communities were poverty, low income and underemployment, the study reported.
According to Ontario County Public Health, the county lost 137 people to suicide between 2006 and 2016. In 2018, Ontario County lost 17 lives to suicide, public health data shows.
Richards said suicide affects all demographics, from teens to the elderly. Ontario County mirrors the national findings, which show those most affected are white males over 50 years old, she said.
The Ontario County Suicide Prevention Coalition was formed in late 2016 to help with the epidemic.
Richards said the goal is to foster hope and healing and create a sense of community. Suicide creates a ripple effect, with every suicide impacting 130 people, she noted.
Tracey Dello Stritto, executive director of The Partnership for Ontario County and a Coalition member, said the group is working to increase the awareness and break down the stigma associated with suicide.
The group uses strategies aimed at suicide prevention. They include community, business and school educational presentations, as well as trainings and workshops where participants learn to recognize when someone may have thoughts of suicide and work with them to create a plan that will support their immediate safety.
The Coalition, through the Partnership for Ontario County, is seeking funding for further prevention efforts, including billboards and additional prevention trainings within Ontario County.
To make a donation to the Ontario County Suicide Prevention Coalition, go to the group’s GoFundMe page at shorturl.at/dmHLT.