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Mercury Story about "Our Children Are Hurting"

Original post made by Concerned Parent, Professorville, on Feb 6, 2014

The Mercury News ran a front page story this morning about how depression, anxiety and stress are seriously affecting greater numbers of students in our area's schools:

Web Link

PAUSD student services coordinator Brenda Carrillo's views were mentioned towards the end of the story:

"Brenda Carrillo...said it's important not to blame academic pressure for depression. 'A mental health condition doesn't necessarily come from high expectations,' she said."

This topic has concerned our Palo Alto community for years now. Surely, the current academic pressures, which can be intense for many students, contribute significantly to the emotional stresses students experience, and in some cases (perhaps many) increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety. Can the link between the growing academic pressures and the growing mental health problems be denied? The Mercury story suggests otherwise. Is there an important -- and perhaps nuanced -- connection between the incessant push for academic excellence and the increasing mental health problems that we ought to be examining more closely? Fixing "blame" is not really the issue; facing the reality of the contributing factors, and working on the sources of stress that seem to be preventing healthy development in so many students is more important. Do current levels of academic pressures harm our children's mental health? If so, how? And what can we do about it? These are good questions to be asking ourselves.

Comments (37)

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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2014 at 8:52 am

"academic pressure"-- "high expectations" - these terms are used above apparently by the PAUSD spokesperson.
I would at times have used other terms such as "witnessing top students cheating to "win" and obtain top scores..." and "HS students oversharing in person and on social media about personal awards/scores/college acceptances" - "advantage gained in challenging curriculum via excessive use of secret costly tutoring schemes, some of which are only available to a certain ethnic group" and "taking every possible AP course for advantage when applying to colleges not for interest in the subject matter" and "going to school for competitive purposes and to "beat" other students, not for the sake of learning." "Parental pressure for Ivy League acceptance" is another good one and "extreme peer ranking of colleges one is accepted to by strict adherence to US News and World Report rankings."
The best thing is that once students are out of PAUSD they find out it's a big wide old world out there and not everyone is interested in or even necessarily impressed by PAUSD.


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Posted by Fire Brenda
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 6, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Thanks Brenda for making it clear that PAUSD is still regressive and in denial about the negative health effects of academic stress. I'm sure Sharon Noguchi wasn't surprised that you have those particular talking points since that is the PAUSD line. Skelly often said during the suicide crisis that it would be unfair to think that stress had anything to do with it. In fact, according to Skelly, stress was good for kids. The research on this is unambiguous and it is in a big article in Psychology today this month too. Stress is bad for kids. Academic stress caused depression and anxiety, and depression can lead to suicide. PAUSD is like the last member of the flat earth society.

Facts are facts whether Skelly faced them or not. Stress causes anxiety and depression. It is potentially a killer . I would say that Brenda should be fired for her totally ignorant comment (where's tabitha anyway?) but she's just aping the Skelly line: nothing to see here, move along. It is a fantasy that Skelly and his enablers like Dr. Joshi parrot that mental illness just comes from nowhere and is exacerbated by nothing. It's all just hereditary or somethig so the schools play no role. Thanks PSN for rubber stamping the most stressful schools in America. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Yes, Brenda's comment is completely ignorant. Sure, diagnosed depression can be a result of mental illness, but there are many depressed students who are not mentally ill and are depressed due to academics. Our children hardly have any free time - even weekends are booked with schoolwork and this is in regular lanes (not AP or honors, accelerated). Even if a parent isn't forcing their child to earn top grades or attend an Ivy League or high tier university, Paly (I can't speak for Gunn) needs to face the fact that some of the teachers are sadists who think their class is the only class with disregard to the fact that students have 5-6 other classes with homework and tests. There are reasonable teachers but if your child has a load of challenging teachers all in the same year, it's completely stressful. One of my children has seen a downward trend in cheerful personalities - students have too much homework and sleep deprivation. And the counselors will only offer how to adjust to stress, not change their teachers. It's completely unfair that a child can take a class and they are either swamped with work and a difficult grading process or if they had the other teacher of the class, they have a reasonable to easy workload. There is no consistency in workload/grading and the Instructional Supervisors of Social Studies and English need to address this ongoing problem. Math and World Language classes are about the same - very challenging!!

Why do parents have free time to rest on weekends but our children don't? Plus, they need to have some extracurricular to state on their college applications. When do they have time to relax with friends unless they completely ignore their grades? Teenagers need time to recharge too, and many teachers are not allowing it.

If only Mr. Winston were still principal - he understood the stress students are enduring and he was making gains. Mrs. Diorio seems to ignore the issue. Just because no student has stood on the tracks lately doesn't mean our children aren't suffering.



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Posted by Sally
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Is there a genetic link to depression and anxiety? I have noticed that many adults in this area who have these conditions, and so do their kids. There are many students who are involved in the Palo Alto educational system, and they thrive. I understand that there is probably a nature/nurture continuum, but the "nature" part is not being discussed here.


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Posted by Truth Is
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Students are cheating not necessarily to get As, but to stay away from C or Ds.

Parents are doing their children's homework because: some assignments are too difficult, the student ran out of time to complete the assignment because he was working on other classes, or the teacher grades too hard. I've heard parents laughing about how they did their child's homework and didn't earn an A even though they have degrees or graduate degrees in the given subject.

Our children work too hard for Bs. Some teachers only give out a few As, even when the work is A level work. Our B students would be A students elsewhere.


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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Ms. Carillo's statement "it's important not to blame academic pressure for depression" should really say "it's important not to blame PAUSD for any issues students may have".



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Posted by Future former Paly parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 6, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Sure there is cheating as well. Cheating is one of the symptoms of the pressure.

It's really easy though.

The source of academic pressure is... parents (and to a lesser extent the crazy university admission process). Parents who won't settle on anything else than Stanford or Ivy League. Parents who won't settle for anything less than top lanes. Parents who won't settle for anything else than all As. And on and on.

I personally find it impossible to blame this on the schools. They do all they can to alleviate stress on students.

(I am a parent by the way, and am not an education professional, in case you wonder).


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Posted by Wrong! Academic Stress Does lead to Anxiety and Deper
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Brenda, I cannot believe that you opened your mouth to say that. Obviously you are protencting your boss the one who pays you so you have to be on his side. I only wish you had a young child not on elementary or middle school, but at high school so you could really what is going on on the students brain, when they are testing, and trying to at least get B's. Yes we hav not had no one on the train tracks, but we have had students who hand up themselves, who jumped up a tall building, and are deadth or handicaped. Ane one of them even said change the school environment, and we have also had students who have attemted suicide even at the school bathrooms. I wa were you. I will not open my mouth, just to make look good to the people who pay you.


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Posted by can the link...
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 6, 2014 at 7:12 pm

"Can the link between the growing academic pressures and the growing mental health problems be denied?"

Can the link between the growing online social networking and the growing mental health problems be denied?
Can the link between the growing use of High fructose corn syrup and the growing mental health problems be denied?
Can the link between the growing house prices and the growing mental health problems be denied?
Can the link ...


Or you could do an actual scientific study that produces real results.


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Posted by Cut the mike!
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 6, 2014 at 7:56 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


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Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2014 at 8:13 pm

In answer to the question "What can we about it?": There are concrete steps that we can take to reduce unnecessary academic stress for our students, and consequently increase their emotional well-being and their ability to learn. We already have a community plan for doing this, in the form of Project Safety Net. Section P-8 of the PSN plan, entitled "Supportive School Environments", is focused on changes in the schools in order to reduce unnecessary "stress and distress" among Palo Alto youth (see Web Link).

The Project Safety Net plan identifies some low hanging fruit for making changes, including improvements to secondary school counseling, homework, and addressing test and project scheduling for middle and high school students. While we have made some progress on these issues over the last few years, there is a lot more that can be done, including strengthening the teacher advisory program at Paly and moving Gunn in that direction, monitoring implementation of the district's homework policy, and putting in place scheduling measures to prevent assignment deadline pileups. These have all been district focused goals in the past but have suffered from a lack of follow through and commitment at the level of the school board.

I wouldn't put too much weight on Ms. Carrillo's quote. It's easy to be misunderstood with a partial or incomplete statement. Certainly, there is very substantial evidence for a connection between excessive academic stress and emotional well-being, including anxiety and depression. (For an article about the particular issues of affluent communities in this regard, see Web Link).

That doesn't mean that kids don't have other sources of stress, from family issues to peer relationships. But positive changes in the schools to reduce unnecessary stress are a big lever that can affect the lives of all students in our community, and there is no reason not to pursue them. Fully implementing the PSN plan in this area would be a great first step.


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Can anyone provide data (academic study) about the relationship between academic stress (vs. affluence, high expectation, other issues) and depression or other mental illness? I admit am skeptical about it, but would be interested in seeing data. I do think academic stress, like most chronic stress, is undesirable for its own reasons, but it seems more like a family / individual choice issue, not a school / public health issue.

For instance, the author of the Psych Today article Mr. Dauber cites has done research on affluent mothers "...suggest[ing] parallels with patterns seen with the teens: A large proportion of today's well-educated, upper-middle class mothers are highly stressed and not happy with their life situations." If true, then it hard to see academic stress as the reason that affluent moms are depressed!

As for Ms. Carillo's quote, I'm not sure what people object to. "'A mental health condition doesn't necessarily come from high expectations,' she said." That seems incontrovertibly true to me. The idea that school work and grades are the #1 thing worrying kids seems quite out of touch with my experience as both a teenager and a parent.


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Posted by Straw Man
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 6, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Fred, the objection to Ms Carillo's statement is that it is a "straw man" claim. Neither the article or commenters on this thread have claimed that high expectations "necessarily" cause mental health conditions. Rather, the point of the article is that there is an increase in mental health problems among our teens and academic stress is a contributing factor that districts can either reduce or exacerbate, depending on how they respond to the problem. We all recognize that there are other significant contributing factors, but this is the one that school districts are able to affect.
Through the efforts of community members and school leaders our district has taken several actions to improve our crisis management. Sadly, as Ms Carillo indicated, our district leadership continues to avoid recognizing the ability of our district to address the root causes of the problem that are within their control.


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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2014 at 9:20 am

@Ken Dauber - while I applaud the work that you and many other parents have done in trying to easy the stress from our schools on our students, what I see is a lack of buy-in from those who can actually accomplish reducing the stress - the teachers and administration.

As a Paly parent going on 8 years, I have see some reduction in homework load, but NO reduction on many of the other academic issues facing the student such as actually teaching what the will be on test, returning papers and projects in a timely manner, etc.

Many of the issues that cause our students stress have little or nothing to do with academic rigor and much to do with the behavior of teachers.


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 8, 2014 at 10:46 am

"... the ability of our district to address the root causes of the problem that are within their control."

@Straw Man - the main disagreement I think I have with you and possibly others is that you seem to believe the "root causes" of whatever stress young people feel is within the control of school administrators. That implies that "academic stress" is at the core, which I doubt very much is the case. As the researcher mentioned above points out, those stressed out kids' mothers are also stressed and unsatisfied. It seems to me that family expectations and peer pressure are much more likely root causes, and the school doesn't control them. The school administrators are likely defensive because community members expect them to "solve" the problem when in fact they can do very little to address it. The evidence I've seen suggests that child stress is no greater in Palo Alto than elsewhere, suggesting the schools have little to do with it.

I'm open to other views, but I'd be interested in seeing data that supports that the schools can somehow address this issue in a way that actually moves the needle.


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Posted by It's the Teachers
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

I'm thoroughly convinced it's the teachers who are causing all the student stress, not the parents. People ignorantly assume all parents want their children to attend Ivy Leagues. In a simplistic example, what if "A"s were distributed more freely because grading was more fair? The parents cannot be blamed for student stress because they would be happy. This wouldn't necessarily dumb-down the curriculum or our students. Isn't the goal of being a teacher to teach children, not cause them stress? There are a portion of Paly teachers who understand this concept; they teach, students learn, students are not stressed. Don't confuse this with "easy A" grading because the students still have to work, but attaining an "A" isn't impossible if the time is put into the class.

Check ratemyteachers.com for teacher reviews and they are quite accurate. There are some infamous teachers that rarely give "A"s on writing, and they are overwhelmingly young, immature teachers who want to exert their power and superiority without regards to how they are affecting student stress: Hinton, Taylor, Park, Farina. Hinton is infamous for returning papers 3 months later or not at all so students never learn from mistakes. Maybe once these teachers age, they'll get over themselves.


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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2014 at 1:46 pm

For those who do not believe that teachers contribute to student stress - ask yourself if you would find any of the following stressful:

Chemistry - your teacher hands out a study guide and tells you that is what will be on the final. You spend hours studying, hire a tutor to review with you and are excited to take the final because you feel prepared. The majority of information tested on in final was NOT on the study guide and was NOT covered in class.

AP Biology - Some students got a hold of the tests a few years ago and post them online along with the answers. Just a few students in the class have access to the tests, they get perfect scores. The rest of the class is graded on a curve and obviously does not get perfect scores… This has been going on for several years.

Honors English - your teacher does not grade or hand back your essays for months so you can't "learn from your mistakes". You also have no idea what your grade is!

Honors English (different teacher) you walk into class the first day of the semester and the FIRST thing the teacher tells the class is that he/she will only give ONE A.

Teacher Advisor - You are a 2nd semester senior, you have had your TA as a teacher both for 11th and 12th grade. You go to get something signed and his response is "you need to have your TA sign this". When you respond that he is your TA, he asks "did I do a req letter for you?"

Various levels of Math - you receive a test and you look at only to realize that much of what is on the test has never been covered in class. (All the math teachers are required to give the same tests, that doesn't mean they have actually covered the material.)

While a lot of student stress is outside the control of PAUSD, a lot of it is.


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Posted by Qoui?
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 8, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Stress is good for kids?? Suicides are not caused by stress??? Has anyone considered the Gunn student a few years back who decided he would prefer to die than take the week-long STAR test again?

What about the two Paly sophomores, about ten or so years ago, who committed suicide during finals? One of them was known to me, and he had become very frustrated and mopey due to schools stress. He had even said to his father that if junior year was worse than sophomore year at Paly, he wanted to leave Paly NOW! Of course, no one listened....


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 8, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Kim Diorio, Paly's principal, is Skelly's puppet. And Skelly isn't interested in change. Diorio won't work on student stress because she's not a leader, but someone just to keep the seat warm. I haven't seen any positive changes in Paly yet.

And for those of you who overpraise the TA system, it's not so fabulous. The Advisors are teachers, not true advisors and don't necessarily know the students well. And in senior year, there were only advisories 3 times! The seniors are the grade that needs advisory most, due to college apps!

The college and career counselors at Paly are excellent.


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Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 8, 2014 at 9:47 pm

There is a substantial research base for the connection between unnecessary academic stress and a range of negative social and emotional consequences for students, including anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, as well as reduced engagement with school. For a review, see an annotated bibliography prepared jointly by Challenge Success and We Can Do Better Palo Alto (Web Link).

To my mind, the relevant question is whether making positive change in the schools can reduce these effects for students -- not whether schools are the "root cause" of all of the stress that students experience. Young people clearly experience stress in other areas of their lives, from family relationships to peer relationships to the simple ups and downs of adolescence. Some experience these more severely than others, due to mental health or other issues. We don't have to believe that schools hold the ultimate key to all of these factors in order to want to make changes that will pay off for all students. That's the logic behind Project Safety Net's "Supportive School Environments" plan that I referred to in my post above.

There are positive changes in motion, particularly at Paly. The new principal, Kim Diorio, seems to be making student well-being a priority, with the aid of some key staff members, including assistant principal Victoria Kim and Eric Bloom, who is in a new position as TOSA for school climate.

Extending those changes across the whole district and making solid progress on the issues raised by Project Safety Net will take leadership from the school board and senior district staff. Commitment at that level has been fitful and inconsistent. One positive step for parents and concerned community members would be to tell school board members that reducing unnecessary academic stress for our students should be a high priority for the district.


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Posted by thereisaproblem
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 9, 2014 at 10:01 am

@Palo Alto Parent: That's an excellent list you made. Your list is accurate and that was our family's experience at Paly. The teachers often gave out very few A's -- it would be like taking the freshmen Stanford class and curving grades so that only a few could get A's and B's. This system is not about learning the material -- it is punishing the student and that certainly causes stress.

We compared our experiences with a Mountain View family and heard about AP scores of 3 but the student received an A in the class. It was the reverse here -- students in our schools can get a 5 on the AP but a B or even a C in the course. Doesn't sound like the class is about mastering the material to me. That causes stress.

Add to that, there are some teachers who don't really want to teach the material and students have to learn on their own. That definitely causes stress.

There are many things the high school can do to reduce stress.


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Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 9, 2014 at 11:32 am

Back in the 80s, no one had tutors, even in AP classes, but now, many students are stacked with tutors or parental help just so they can understand the material, not necessarily because they want an A. In certain AP classes, the majority of students have tutors. And those who cannot afford tutors are at a disadvantage. I recall chemistry and physics being fairly easy but have had to hire tutors for my children in both math and science, regular lanes. Hiring tutors greatly reduced the stress on my children.


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Posted by Agreed Ken
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 9, 2014 at 12:29 pm

@Ken Dauber: Thank you for your call for a balanced/multi-pronged approach to tackling this issue. Ultimately, I think it'll be the more effective approach--certainly based on the data arising from the PSN survey identifying multiple factors contributing to student stress.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 9, 2014 at 1:56 pm

@Paly Alum, Cubberley alum here. In your opinion has the material become more difficult, the teachers become less effective, or the students become more distracted or stretched too thin? A combination or something else I'm missing? Maybe it was the salutary effect of Beatles music compared to today's offerings. I also recall chemistry and physics being fairly easy.

I can't believe that students have become less capable, but that is the apparent consensus which led to SAT scores being recalibrated in the mid-1990s. Expectations got adjusted downward as more students were added to what was once a self-selected minority of high achievers. Which way has the mix in PAUSD been moving?


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Posted by Bad Rep
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Feb 9, 2014 at 2:17 pm

We went to a local wedding about a year ago, and one of the guests at our table ( at the reception), introduced herself as a teacher at Gunn HS. Another guest at a nearby table piped up, "You mean Suicide High?"! Our side of the room went dead silent; this guest was from Marin and people up there were familiar with the Gunn reputation for high pressure. So were at least half the guests in the room, many of whom were from out of town or out of the country.

The Palo Alto School District reputation is, unfortunately, known far and wide, even in some foreign countries. With only a couple of exceptions, many foreign nationals think the methods used in our schools are pitiable.

Kevin Skelly, the BOE, et al, are turning our schools into an object of ridicule far and wide.


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Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 9, 2014 at 6:43 pm

@musical: I was in Cubb's last freshman class, then transferred to Paly, so I was at Wilbur. The material they are teaching in math/science is more difficult now. The chemistry textbook in regular lanes is a college textbook. I can't even help my children with math/science and my math/science husband even says it's easier to hire a tutor because of the complexity of material. The students are not less capable; there are more nerds now because to afford to live in Palo Alto their parents have to be fiancially successful, thus, the offspring is quite intelligent. We didn't have near as much homework or studying back in the early 80s. I recall plenty of free time to do hang out on weekdays and weekends.

The quality of the English teachers in middle and high school has declined significantly. We were taught on a daily basis how to write and assigned one-page papers which were returned within a week with many helpful comments to help us learn. There isn't much paper correcting thse days or they have peers correct the papers. They certainly don't teach much in writing skills.


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Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 9, 2014 at 6:49 pm

It's quite stressful for students to write papers and have a paper returned with a grade less than an A but with no comments on how an A could have been achieved. So it's the worst of both - they earn a B or C in the class but didn't improve their writing skills at all.


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Posted by Please stop
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 9, 2014 at 6:59 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


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Posted by Quoi?
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 9, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Please Stop: Teen suicides happen every day, everywhere. This is not news. Why do the suicides by train at Gunn and. Paly make national and international news?

When I sold my house in Midtown several years ago. a man from Japan came to look at it and asked which high school children in that neighborhood attended. He was relieved to find out they did NOT go to Gunn, because the suicides of Gun. Students had made the news in Japan! He felt that he did not want to go from one place with a high teen suicide rate--Tokyo--to another place with a high teen suicide rate--Gunn High School-- it he did want a good public school for his only son. He did not like SF schools, thought the kids to undisciplined and dirty. He ended up buying our house.

[Portion removed.]

A young person who kills himself should not be treated as a statistic. He was a young life cut short forever because he could not see an end to a "temporary" problem. His parents have to live with this the rest of their lives. You should not make light of it.


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Posted by Please stop
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 9, 2014 at 9:45 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 9, 2014 at 9:46 pm

@Paly Alum, I hope to last another 25-30 years just so I can read what the next generation says about their kids' workload at Paly and Gunn and how the 2010s are remembered. Median house price should be around $20M by then. Water level in the bay may rise half a millimeter. Gasoline will still be $3.59 a gallon. And English teachers perhaps just a memory.


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Posted by Quoi?
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 10, 2014 at 2:15 am

Please Stop: Please stop trivializing the Palo Alto suicides, and please stop reducing teen suicides to statistics. It violates a law of nature when children predecease their parents. Please stop slapping the parents of teen suicides in the face to quote statistics about suicide clusters. Please stop insinuating that a premature death is less agonizing because the teen was part of a cluster, as if that teen had no pain, no fear, no deep depression. It is like saying that a cancer death is insignificant because there are clusters of cancer deaths ( such as the rather large one in the Bay Area).

The emotional pain to a young person is real, and seems unending to someone who has been on this planet such a short time. Their judgment is faulty, and they choose a permanent solution to what they do not understand is a temporary problem.

Your first post insulted a lot of people, the least of whom is Bad Rep. Many of us locals have been in situations where we were shocked at how far and wide the notoriety of Gunn and Paly ( and Monta Vista and Castilleja, for that matter) are known.


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Posted by Quoi?
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 10, 2014 at 2:36 am

Everyone: School is a huge slice of a kid's daily life--even bigger when you add in extracurricular activities, school sports, and hours of homework. It is their "career", and usually the most important thing in their lives. We should not make light of, or trivialize, the stresses of attending a high pressure school in a high pressure city in a high pressure valley in the high pressure Bay Area. The kids are drowning in high pressure and expectations from all sides and all sources. They aren't toughened enough yet to shake this sort of thing off; they are still soft, impressionable, and much too malleable.

Kids in Japan commit suicide to save their parents the shame of not getting into the best university in Tokyo. Kids in China and Korea commit suicide to save their parents the shame of having a kid who doesn't want to go to medical school or be in high tech.

We as parents, teachers, and society ( and stubborn culture) do this to our kids without being aware of it. Time to raise our awareness.

This whole thing of insulting the dead kids and their parents is so upsetting that I am writing this after 2:00 am because my own angst about it (some of which is from personal experiences) is keeping me awake. At least I have a conscience. I would never, ever trivialize an unnecessary death. Death is forever; these kids will never go to college, fall in love, get married, have children. Does ANYONE ever think of that? Or of what the suicide victim's last thoughts were?

One teen who attempted suicide and failed told me that all he could think of was, "This is the only way I will ever get any rest!" This was the son of a close friend, and he attended Menlo School, a private high school. He told me this when I visited him at the Stanford hospital psychiatric ward, and I suspect it is fair to say that this is not an uncommon last thought.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 10, 2014 at 5:24 am

[Post removed.]


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Posted by cut the mike!
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 10, 2014 at 10:55 am

Thank you for your compassionate posts Quoi? My reaction to the turn this thread has taken is that we have a lot of work to do here in Palo Alto in addressing the root causes of student mental health issues.

For starters: Merely because a suicide has taken place in a cluster does not mean that depression, stress, anxiety, and social/ecological factors played no role. The article that "please stop" posted for example recommends that students who are "at risk" for suicide based on what the author calls "preexisting vulnerabilities." These include depression, anxiety, other mental health issues, bullying, prior suicidal behavior, substance abuse and other stressors.

Affluent, high achieving communities like PAUSD (and the others listed by "please stop" such as Ivy League colleges Cornell and Penn, Wellesley, and Lake Forest all have high rates of adolescent depression and related mental health problems including: substance abuse, cutting, eating disorders, shoplifting, and other similar problems. These appear to be problems that are having a higher incidence in high-pressure communities like PA. There are characteristics of these communities that place our students at risk for depression. Depression, and related self-harming conduct such as cutting, in turn places them at risk for more serious self-harm such as suicide.

When a suicide occurs in a community like Palo Alto, it is important to understand that the conditions are ripe for a cluster to occur in part because there are so many depressed, anxious, self-harming kids in affluent high-pressure communities.

However, quite apart from suicide, it is an issue of concern that there are aspects of growing up in a place like PA that is making so many of our kids sick. Our way of living, of assigning very high amounts of homework so we can "beat the competition" for example, of enrolling our kids in round the clock schooling, tutoring, prepping, pre-taking course, college summer institutes, computer camps, and sending the message that you have to be the first, best, highest, mostest, yours MUST GO TO 11, no matter what you want to be, you can BE THE BEST, that is making our kids sick.

It is as if we have built our town on a superfund site, and have a cancer cluster. However rather than abate the hazard we are debating whether or not it's really that bad because after all the houses we built on the contaminated land are selling like hotcakes and we really don't want it to get out that there is an issue because it might diminish the value that outsiders have assigned to our land.

Next:Merely because suicide clusters take place in other places does not mean that we do not have work to do here, or that they do not have work to do in those other places. Teen suicide can be prevented. One of the steps to prevention is identifying the factors that are placing kids at risk. Academic stress, workload, unremitting pressure, persistent feelings of failure and anxiety -- these things place kids at risk for depression, substance abuse, cutting, eating disorders and other issues. Palo Alto, like Wellesley and Lake Forest and other similar places will at some point have to face facts. There is nothing in the fact that other places are also screwed up that means that we are not screwed up. We are, in fact, screwed up. Our values are broken. We are willing to push our kids past a breaking point in order to "win" an illusory contest with "China" or "global" whatever in order to see who can do the most problem sets. Some kids will "win" and some will get sick. Some of those who get sick will die. That is not OK. That is horrible.

The thing that is upsetting Quoi? is the offhand way that "please stop" is relying on the number of dead kids to somehow relieve PA of the responsibility for doing anything about it. Well, the argument goes, there are a ton of dead kids, so there must be nothing we can do about it. That's a logical fallacy and a moral bankruptcy.

Someday we will look back on this and wonder why we did this to our own children. For what? To prove what exactly? For whose benefit? The PA Board of Realtors is happy, so that's one satisfied customer. But childhood only happens once and these kids are overburdened. Some of them can make it. Some can't.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Please stop
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 10, 2014 at 1:37 pm

@Quoi - as I said, I am having trouble following some of your posts. I'm sorry that you don't like the statistics - in my view, they are what they are and we do ourselves and our community a disservice if we are ignorant of them. There are many youth suicide clusters, every year, in the US. We tend not to hear about them. Knowing that we are not unique doesn't trivialize what has happened, but it is important to understanding what we might be able to do about it. I hate to see us bust our picks on issues that may have no practical impact on the thing we are trying to change.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Oh, please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm

[Post removed.]


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