Summit in Greensboro Explores Mental Health Care

Posted on April 20, 2015

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Kevin Hines, one of just 34 survivors of the thousands of suicide leaps off the Golden Gate Bridge over the years, speaks about what caused him to leap, and the work he has done since in spreading the news about mental illness. Hines was one of the speakers Thursday at the annual faith and health summit in Huggins Auditorium at Greensboro College.

As he leaned over that 4-foot-high railing along the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in 2000, crying hysterically as people passed — and about to jump — a woman finally approached Kevin Hines.

“I thought she was going to say, “Are you OK?’ ” said Hines, the keynote speaker for Thursday’s community wellness summit at Greensboro College.

Instead, the woman asked him to take her picture with her camera. He did.

And then he jumped.

“ ‘Are you OK?’ ‘Is something wrong?’ Those were the only words I desperately needed to hear,” said Hines, whose condition had been diagnosed as bipolar disorder and who had barely slept for weeks before jumping. He is one of just 34 survivors, or 1 percent, of the thousands of suicide leaps off the tourist attraction over the years. His 2013 memoir, “Cracked Not Broken, The Kevin Hines Story,” is a best-seller.

The organizers of Thursday’s Behavioral Health Faith Summit invited Hines to give the community an insight into the problems and issues surrounding people with mental illnesses. This year’s summit was dedicated to fusing the energy of health professionals and the faith community to help people who are hurting.

Former Arizona Congressman Ron Barber, who was injured in a mass shooting alongside U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, also participated in several of the panel discussions. Barber, a mental health services administrator, was given a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder after the shooting.

“It can’t be ‘about us, without us,’ ” Bob Wineburg, one of the organizers and a UNC-Greensboro social work professor, said of Hines giving a voice to those living with mental illness.

Hines’ words also come as Greensboro grapples with a spate of high-profile suicides off downtown parking garages.

One jumper tweeted right before leaping.

It is an issue that might touch the person in the next seat.

“I want to kill myself every day, but I don’t,” said Carlene Byron, who lives with a bipolar disorder and drove from Durham to be a part of the conference. “I heard the voice I know is God say to me, ‘Plant bulbs. If you don’t have a reason to live to spring, plant bulbs.’

“That’s what I keep reminding myself,” said Byron, who has started a blog about faith and mental illness.

Thursday’s summit, which counted as certification training for health care professionals, included sessions focused on the enduring stigma of mental illness and how to help people feel more comfortable seeking care — something they say involves the power of community, especially the faith community.

Members of the faith community often distance themselves from the fact that people who are of faith suffer from depression and chemical imbalances just like everybody else, some of the panelists agreed.

It is often in the pews where people get their cues about mental illness, psychiatrist Dr. Carey Cottle said in sharing a conversation he had while diagnosing a patient’s condition as bipolar disorder.

“She said, ‘I had rather you told me I had cancer — if I had cancer, I could go to my church and they would pray for me,’  ” Cottle recalled, referencing her reluctance to tell anyone. “I hope the day will come when people can talk as openly about having a bipolar disorder as they can talk about having cancer.”

Those in health care have also watched as the faith community has shown growing concern with mental health issues, partly out of interest and partly through default, as budget cuts in social services leave a large swath of the community potentially unprotected and sometimes in crisis.

“When we talk about spirituality, we’re not always talking about salvation, being on our way to Heaven,” said the Rev. Eric Gladney of the health ministry at Oak Springs Church, where he is the senior pastor. “There is a life we need to live here.”

The effects of childhood trauma and genetic predispositions are real, Gladney said, and sometimes it takes more than prayer to help someone.

“We absolutely pick up the telephone to help make the appointment” with a professional, he said of his ministry.

Other discussions involved people whose conditions have been diagnosed as mentally ill and do not have insurance, the returning servicemen and veterans who are committing suicide at a higher rate of loss than through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how people who are struggling with mental illness should share their stories so that people see it’s not just them. Also, the things people can do now in their communities and churches to help someone else.

“Mental health first-aid training” would have raised flags around Adam Lanza, who killed 22 children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., said Barber, the former congressman. He was in a “meltdown” two years before the shootings — and there are other high-profile cases where there were obvious and not-so-obvious signs as well, he said.

“But none of them figured out what was going on until it was too late,” Barber said.

Hines, who has won accolades for sharing his story with clergy, schools, the military and law enforcement agencies, said that speaking out is how he tries to do his part.

His is a compelling story, of shattering bones in his back as he hit the water — but remaining conscious. A series of things he credits to divine intervention allowed him to be quickly pulled from the water and to have a full physical recovery.

He soon thought he had his illness under control.

“I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m cured,’  ” he told summit participants. “I didn’t pick up the next batch of medication.”

There was a groan in the room.

Fifteen years later, with medications and a supportive family, he still suffers bouts of hallucinations, paranoia, depression and psychosis.

“This mental illness breaks us down on a regular basis,” Hines said.

Yet, he’s coping. And that’s what he wants people to remember — that there is always hope. He also wants people to remember that those with mental illness need them, even if they don’t say it.

“We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers, if we are nothing else on this earth,” Hines said.

Written by Nancy McLaughlin
Image Credit: Jerry Wolford/News & Record
Reposted from the Greensboro News & Record

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