Uploaded: Wed, May 6, 2009, 12:54 pm
'Boost anti-suicide programs,' parents urge
Mary and Vic Ojakian open their hearts to family of Gunn student, while urging community action
The death of a Gunn High School student Tuesday should prompt the community to boost suicide-prevention and mental-health programs in local schools, said Palo Altans Mary and Vic Ojakian, who lost their 21-year-old son Adam to suicide in 2004.
The Ojakians said their "hearts go out to the parents" of JP Blanchard and that every such suicide brings back their own experience, as well as impacting virtually everyone in the school and broader community.
"Every time this happens we deal with the shock," Mary Ojakian said. "This is necessary, but that is all we do. We do not take action to prevent this from happening again.
"Suicide can be prevented -- bottom line. It is preventable but that requires a community effort. We need to start the programs that prevent this tragedy.
"Every time we tell students, 'You've got to start listening and not be kept to this code of silence.' But we get new students every year. We all need to learn, as a community, how to prevent these tragedies.
"We all need to learn 'CPR for the brain.' It exists and it can be taught. We can institutionalize this. So every year when new students come they learn that there are things they can do to help their peers," Vic Ojakian said.
"The pain hasn't actually gone away. It's gotten bigger now for all of us in the community," Mary Ojakian said.
"This sends me right back," she said. "Here I am looking at the website of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
"It's very important to recognize that this is the death of a child," she said.
"It's the death of a child like any other death -- as if this child died suddenly of an unknown heart condition. It's exactly the same. It is exactly how you think and approach and talk with each other and understand the shock, and extend concerns for the family.
"This is a very loved child, and always keep that in mind. This is not something to keep quiet. It's not something we don't talk about. We need to talk about it because that's how we feel, like any other sudden illness and death," she said.
Recalling the day she lost her son, a student at the University of California at Davis and a Paly graduate, Mary Ojakian said, "I learned that I lost my child, and that was the most important thing in the world. It was not how he died. He died.
"It's important to understand that the action of suicide itself is largely impulsive," she said. "The person who dies is very ambivalent about death. They don't necessarily want to die. They want to get out of the pain they're in, and that's why it's important that we all talk with each other because we can then recognize that somebody is experiencing pain and give them help and hope.
"It's very important to listen. Don't judge them or their family. Don't deny them their feelings. Allow it and get them help. It's OK for them to be having tough times. What isn't OK is ignoring it."
Following their son's death, Mary and Vic Ojakian, a former mayor of Palo Alto, were galvanized to investigate suicide-prevention efforts in California's public colleges and universities. Their efforts resulted in significant changes to the system. Now, they say, they are interested in addressing suicide prevention efforts in K-12 schools, starting close to home in Palo Alto.
Posted by GunnAlum
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 7, 2009 at 9:02 pm
I am so sorry for your loss Mr. and Mrs. Blanchard, there is nothing more tragic in this life than the loss of a young, bright and promising youth.
Many people question why suicide seems to be so common in our town, a town that is very affluent, generally peaceful, and has so many oppurtunities for young people. While I would never try to say I know why young Mr. JP Blanchard committed his act, if he did, I would like to shed a little light on the situation of troubled teens.
I graduated from Gunn High School recently and certainly had an emotionally turbulent four years at the school. There were many distinct times that I came way too close to committing the same act JP may have committed Tuesday. I know for a fact that I was not the only one of my peers with those thoughts, and like thoe peers that were in a similar dark place that I was, they never let any signs show that they were so trapped.
Trapped is the perfect way to describe a Palo Alto youth's psyche. At Gunn High School, above all others, there is this strange need, or intense pressure, to appear to be without flaw. this encompasses life in the classroom, athletic endeavors, and certainly what you do socially. It is almost as if you are being evaluated, or think you are being evaluated, in a fashion not dissimilar to that of a college admission officer.
The benefit to that is that Gunn kids are extraordinarily successful, but that comes at a very steep price. I never felt, not for a moment, that there was somebody I could talk to, if there was a counselor or psychologist who's sole function was not simply to fine tune applications, then I was unaware. I know that parents rarely see the problems their kids might be facing because they are so incredibly successful in all of their endeavors, there are no signs that a kid would be disturbed. One of the main problems associated with depression in my opinion, and I am certainly not implying that this was a problem facing JP, but there is a very disguised presence of drug abuse and alcoholism facing todays youths.
If there are any possible solutions I would propose, not saying that I am all-knowing whatsoever, I would say that a few things need to be done. First off, I think all PAUSD schools should have at least an annual meeting with a school psychologist to discuss NOTHING other than the childs happiness level and contentness with life.
This is something that I immediately encountered at my present University. A few of my peers noted my alcoholic behavior and occasionally depressed demeanor, and immediately referred that I speak with a school psychologist. I was compelled to meet with the psychologist and initially was quite resistant to any help, maintaining my Patented Gunn High "perfect" face. But there was a point where his expertise kicked in, and one of the best decisions in my life was to open up to him. He soon diagnosed that I have a condition called Bipolar Disorder and immediately was able to give me treatment as well as advising me of taking measures to mitigate the effect of the disorder, like consuming much less alcohol and other techniques.
I would also BEG parents and friends to always be vigilant of each other, it causes no harm WHATSOEVER to pull aside your friend or child for just a few second and let them know "If something is ever wrong, I will listen, and will not judge". People that are disturbed REALLY want you to know that something is wrong but they just can NEVER bring themselves to the actual act of initially telling you there is a problem. If they respond to your statement in a mood that might suggest that there is something wrong, even if they say there isn't, dont stop looking out for him.
We can only ask the schools to do so much. Real change has to come from troubled youth's friends, their families and their coaches. Be ever vigilant, even if the surface of the water is perfefctly calm, just stick your head under for a second, to see what lurks in the sea's vast darkness.
Thank you for reading my post, and again I would like to express my most sincere condolences to Mr. and Mrs. Blanchard. I will pray for your son, and I know for a fact that I am not alone. God bless his soul.