Suicide prevention was once a taboo subject in Palo Alto. Now, it's a city policy.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to adopt a suicide-prevention policy modeled after the one recently adopted by Santa Clara County. Vic Ojakian and county Supervisor Liz Kniss, both former Palo Alto mayors, co-chaired the committee that formulated the new policy.
The council adoption of the new policy is the latest move by the city to respond to a recent cluster of suicides at the Caltrain tracks, where five teenagers died over the past 19 months. Last week, the city agreed to provide funding for security guards to monitor the tracks until the end of the school year.
The new policy states that the city will establish a "crisis intervention plan," an educational program to "promote healthy mental, emotional, and social development of residents and employees" and maintain "an easily accessible list of mental health and suicide prevention resources."
The policy will also "advance current strategies, including but not limited to parent education, youth outreach, mental health support of students, means reduction, youth mental health screening, and grief support, amongst other actions."
Kniss said both she and Ojakian hope the policy will "change the cultural expectations" in the community.
"It's one of those issues that we don't want to talk about in polite society," Kniss said. "People don't want to deal with suicide."
Ojakian cited City Manager James Keene's comment that working in suicide prevention requires "dramatic culture shift," which can only be achieved through a wide range of programs and initiatives.
"There's no fool-proof safety method to prevent something like suicide," Ojakian said. "You need to do a variety of things, and one of the things that's important is to have your city leaders say it's an important issue."
The new policy was also endorsed by Project Safety Net, a collaboration of parents, city officials, medical professionals, and various community volunteers. The group formed in the summer of 2009 as a response to the Caltrain suicides.
The council approved the policy without discussion.