Palo Alto approves suicide-prevention policy

City Council unanimously adopts policy to provide education, training in suicide prevention

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.

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Posted by Use-Words-To-Increase-Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2010 at 10:57 am

> Kniss said both she and Ojakain hope the policy will
> "change the cultural expectations" in the community.

From what to what?

One "cultural shift" that is long overdue is public officials, and people with an agenda, being allowed to speak in incomplete sentences (or perhaps semantically vacuous to be more precise).

There "outta be a law" that anyway to speaks like this in a public setting will spend a week in the stocks.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:03 am

"suicide prevention was once a "taboo" subject in Palo Alto"??
According to who? the article writer?
I would have to grade Palo Alto as a community that looked at this serious issue as just that, a serious and important problem that has impacted many families and people.
For as long as I can remember Palo Alto has dicussed and recognized this problem, sadly some of the best and brightest have come to the conclusion that suicide was their only option when facing difficult times.
I've always felt the people of Palo Alto viewed this issue as something that if nothing else, deserving of frank educated discussion.
Anything or any program, policy that can save one life is obviously worth the effort, but to imply suicide was a "taboo" subject simply turns a blind eye to the fact the people of Palo Alto have viewed and treated suicide as a serious issue affecting people of every level in the Palo Alto and Stanford community.

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Posted by Use-Words-To-Increase-Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:12 am

Fixed a couple typos from above --

There "ought to be a law" that any one who speaks like this in a public setting will have to spend a week in the stocks.

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Posted by Track Watcher
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:14 am

Great advancement. Thanks to the Ojakain's. I know they work hard to make changes on this issue. I hope the city in fact takes suicide seriously and it is not just on writing. Hopefully the school district (Skelly, Teachers and counselors)will finally said the S word, teach students about suicide and how to prevent it. Till this day, they do not want to say the word suicide to students, and this makes it a lot harder to teach our children at home. School teach them about sex,and physical sickness, but not about mental illnesses or suicide, which makes it harder for students to ask for help because they are ashamed because they have not been taught that this is a just another sickness that people get and they are not the only ones.

Like this comment
Posted by dott31
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:15 am

Jake, you are absolutely correct. Thank you!

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:34 am

"the fact the people of Palo Alto have viewed and treated suicide as a serious issue affecting people of every level in the Palo Alto and Stanford community"

I don't like the "broad brush" approach this statement from Jake implies. For example, I have heard that a significant number of suicides involving individuals with psychiatric problems. I say "heard" because I don't see any reports or heard of any studies identifying the circumstances or issues affecting the victims. This reminds of how the TSA is going about security at airports where no intelligence goes into focusing on suspects who are likely to commit acts of terrorism. Until we get honest about the psychiatric and even ethnic and socioeconomic commonalities surrounding the suicides, all the chair-sitters, suicide prevention hotline signs, and fences in the world will continue to be ineffective.

Like this comment
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:45 am

A lot of commentators here seem genuinely concerned about this issue, but how many of us are the "chair-sitters" to which Steve referred in his comment? I suggest that if you really want to know the deal, you get involved with/volunteer at Project Safety Net or at Youth Community Service or Adolescent Counseling Services or any of the other 20 organizations involved with Project Safety Net. That's where you'll get the latest un-flitered information. Finding the right balance in the press between accurate reporting and preventing "contagion" which is a very real factor is not trivial. Palo Alto's media services and public servants and private and public NGOs are trying to find that balance.

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Posted by Patti
a resident of another community
on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:50 am

I was a counselor at Jordan for six years (1998-2004) and suicide was never a taboo subject there. I was extremely proud of the work the Administrative-Guidance team did to prevent a young person from taking their life. Under the supervision of three different principals, (a challenge in and of itself!) we created a comprehensive guidance program as well as a six-week Guidance course to help meet the social-emotional needs of our students. Under the watchful eye of a very professional staff, I believe these middle school students thrived. Did we meet every student's needs 100% of the time? I'm certain we did not but we continuously worked hard to help each child achieve their potential. I was a bit put off by that opening line in Gennady Sheyner's article but am certainly grateful for the Palo Alto community's hard work to face this very important issue. BTW .... a model comprehensive guidance program should begin in elementary school. Kevin Skelly ... are you reading this??

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Posted by Community Member
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Regarding the above mentioned crisis intervention plan, which will work to maintain a list of accessible mental health and suicide prevention resources, I recently came across the following Bay Area non-profit organization for teenagers who have lost someone in their life to suicide: I work with teenagers in Menlo Park and they can certainly benefit from the support.

Like this comment
Posted by HPA
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 15, 2010 at 11:53 am

Let's all just be happy that the funding was extended. This is a difficult situation with no easy or perfect answers. All we can do is do our best.

Like this comment
Posted by Listen. Dont Censor.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm

This is a little idiotic. The solution is not outreach and government programs. Its fixing why they feel that way. HTe suburbs of palo alto are a terrible place to grow up, not like were starving or dying of disease, but growing up in such a moderate PC place has terrible impacts on kids minds. they have no space to experiment, to do dangerous stunts, to do stupid things, in other words, its hard to be a kid here. Theres nothing to do in this place. Its a boring town, with very little to do. The greedy inhabitants, who claim to be liberal but always vote conservative measures, because they want to keep all their money. then the same people complain about the government not spending its money on important things. Then they wonder why their kids grow up to be spoiled brats, drug users, depressed teens, and the occasional prodigy. Then they wonder why their kids are suicidal, and instead of fixing the problems with this town, they try to convince kids their lives are good. these kids maybe luckier than most, but theses solutions do nothing more than deter suicidal kids from getting help.

Stop providing alternative solutions.
Fix WHY they are sad.
Make school a better, less stressful place.
Have something to do in Palo Alto.
Let them be Free to experiment, to be kids.
Make Palo Alto Interesting.

Then maybe your kids will not be depressed, spoiled, and using drugs.

^look i solved palo alto

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