Caltrain workers raise $12K for suicide prevention

Money raised during Out of Darkness Overnight fundraiser in San Francisco

A team of San Mateo County Transit District employees who manage Caltrain have raised nearly $12,000 to help prevent suicides.

The team joined more than 2,000 people on June 9 and 10 in the Out of the Darkness Overnight fundraiser, an 18-mile walk in San Francisco to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Caltrain tracks have been the site of numerous suicides in recent years, including a suicide cluster in Palo Alto that prompted the City of Palo Alto Safety Net Project to address teen depression and mental health crises.

Caltrain has worked with local community organizations to implement suicide-prevention plans, including the Palo Alto Safety Net Project, Santa Clara County Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee and the San Mateo County Suicide Prevention/Intervention Planning Committee.

Suicides on the Caltrain right of way make up only 3 percent of all the deaths caused by suicide in the Peninsula area served by the railroad. But the deaths along the tracks are the focus of public attention because they affect so many people, Caltrain said in an announcement Tuesday regarding the fundraising.

"We are all touched by these tragic incidents on the Caltrain right of way. Suicide is a community mental health issue. As a member of the community, Caltrain is committed to helping to prevent suicide," Executive Director Mike Scanlon said.

In 1996 Caltrain posted "No Trespassing" signs every 1,200 feet along its 55-mile corridor. In 2001 a suicide-prevention sign with a telephone number to a crisis prevention center was added. The signs were redesigned in 2010 as part of a national study to access their effectiveness. This year all the signs, which had begun to fade, were replaced, Caltrain noted.

The Transit Police Bureau, comprised of San Mateo County Sheriff's officers who patrol Caltrain's right of way, have received specialized crisis-intervention training to help recognize people who might be a threat to him or herself and refer to them for appropriate treatment.

Caltrain also sponsored a team in the 2006 Out of the Darkness Overnight, the last time the event was held in San Francisco.

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Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2012 at 7:04 am

> Suicides on the Caltrain right of way make up only 3 percent
> of all the deaths caused by suicide in the Peninsula area
> served by the railroad.

Why is this claim not sourced? If true, then with about 20 train deaths a year on the Caltrain tracks, and those mostly believed to be suicides, that means that there are about 600 suicides in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. Is this true?

For all the money that we spend on public health, it would seem only reasonable that this sort of information be posted on County web-sites. There is some data available from a private source (presumably obtained from public sources), which offers some insight into the number of deaths by suicide in California, by county--

Web Link

but this data is quite old.

According to Wikipedia, suicide in the United States is the 11th leading cause of death in the country. In 2006, the total number of suicide deaths was 33,300. So, we are left with the nagging question: Are suicides more prevalent on the Peninsula, or sitting at the State/National average?

> Suicide is a community mental health issue. As a member
> of the community,

This, of course, is a contentious point-of-view. Most people who commit suicide do so because of problems of which they, and they alone, are aware. To suggest that somehow, the “community” caused these problems, or should have been responsible for detecting these problems, and once detected, the “community” has an obligation to solve these problems--defies reason. Particularly since mental problems are not readily subject to the techniques of most medical professionals. So little is known about the causes, or cures, of “mental problems”, that to foist this matter on the “community” is non-productive.

While it is “nice” that the Caltrain people have donated some money to this cause, it’s not clear that $12,000 will go very far towards reducing the number of suicides in California, or on the Caltrain tracks.

Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jun 27, 2012 at 7:56 am

How incredibly sweet of CalTrain workers to do this.

Thank you Caltrain Employees! THIS is "charity begins at home" in action.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2012 at 11:01 am

I would like to thank the County transit Caltrain group for their efforts on behalf of others. I have been as horrified as many others by this very sad loss of life while worrying about the negative effects on Caltrain and first responders who have to deal with the immediate horror of such an act. I feel for you all and appreciate this positive response.

Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 27, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I am sorry for families that have lost love ones...BUT, it is NOT CalTrans or anyone else's responsibility to keep people off the tracks!
I still don't know how those little yellow gates will keep someone out if they really want in - A COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME & MONEY!
Suicide (especially with a train) is the most selfish act, and I have to say, I don't have much sympathy for the victim as I do for all the commuters affected and ESPECIALLY the conductor who has to see it all go down!
Instead of wasting money on railway preventative measures, offer more counseling to teens & adults of various types and with anonymity and at no cost - that's where this money can be spent.
Every person is only responsible for their own actions.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 27, 2012 at 7:22 pm

@Joe -- am not sure that "a community mental health problem" is the same as saying that it is the community's "fault" when there are suicides. My interpretation is that suicide impacts the entire community, especially when it occurs in a public setting, such as the Cal Train tracks, and the community can be part (not all) of the solution.

During the horrendous suicide cluster in Palo Alto several years ago, members of the community (including schools, parents, others) worked to increase awareness, resources in schools, serve watch at the key track crossings, etc., and most would say it made a difference. Many (myself included) looked at the crossings in a different way after that time; I still look for signs of anyone near the tracks being in distress.

@KP -- it's unfortunate you are not able to muster sympathy for those in so much pain that death seems the only resolution. A key instigator of suicide is feelings of hopelessness, of having no better way out, some of which comes from feeling disconnected from those around them. Yes, we are each responsible for our own actions, including our willingess to show compassion toward those in pain.

Like this comment
Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 27, 2012 at 11:28 pm

I am so touched by this and thank the individuals at Caltrains for the generosity of heart and sincerity of all the efforts to prevent the tragedy of suicide.

I have seen the efforts that Caltrains, its employees, and leaders have demonstrated taking seriously the issue of suicide and the various steps taken to try to address it. Would that there was a single, simple solution to what IS a community health issue. In the absence of that, different approaches are necessary and require courage, compassion, and conviction.

Fielding a team for this overnight walk of 18 miles up and down the streets of San Francisco from dusk to dawn, bless you all.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2012 at 6:34 am

> My interpretation is that suicide impacts the entire community,
> especially when it occurs in a public setting

Most suicides do not occur in a public setting. For that matter, most suicide attempts do not occur in a public setting. As to impacting the whole community--don't think so. There may be a few people who know the deceased, or people who think that somehow their actions might cause someone else to seek help rather than kill themselves But there does not seem to be much evidence to bear out these beliefs.

Recently, a man was killed at the CalTrain crossing in Menlo Park. His family released a statement shortly thereafter, which outlined the man's struggles with mental illness. Given the visibility of these CalTrain suicides, and the general lack of visibility into the people and their problems who commit suicide this way--it almost seemed like a courageous act on the part of this family to share their private grief in so public a way.

Their story pointed out that this man had recognized his problem for several years, but in the end, was not able to deal with it other than by ending his own life. Certainly, using this situation as an example--what could the "community" have done to help him better understand his problem, and to deal with it in a responsible way? Perhaps this is an exception, but certainly given the blackouts on details associated with these events--there is no way of knowing how much professional care each of these folks had taken advantage of, prior to their ending their lives.

If these people at CalTrain want to help, maybe they should be looking to upgrade the equipment on the crossings so that trains might be alerted sooner to people/cars on the tracks.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2012 at 8:28 am

Joe raises some good points.

We must, as a society, get rid of the stigma attached to suicide. It is still very much an unknown topic. Data is out there, but there is no way of knowing very much about why a particular individual opts for this way out of their immediate problems unless a note is left and/or the family speaks out.

When someone takes the suicide way out in a public scenario eg Caltrain, we know it has happened. When they do it in private it is for the public at large a non event, but we know that these type of deaths are occurring when we see some of the figures presented.

More public knowledge of suicide, the reasons they happen, whether it is a trend in the individual's life or a catastrophic event which makes them see no alternative, is an important question. Hiding these reasons behind "mental illness" is not good enough when the reasons may be due to things like being victim of domestic abuse, horrendous debt or terminal illness.

Being able to discuss this issue is something that should be appropriate.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 28, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Some poor soul took his act public in Mitchell Park this morning.

Web Link

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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