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Panel: No easy fixes for teen depression, suicide

Peer-support groups touted at round-table discussion in Mountain View

In the wake of recent suicides on the Caltrain tracks, teen depression and school-related stress are under new scrutiny, as parents and students alike are taking a hard look at what can be done to turn things around.

The Mental Health Association of San Francisco hosted a round-table discussion in downtown Mountain View on youth-suicide prevention on April 1. The panel included three students from the Palo Alto Unified School District, which lost three high school students and one alum since October. A Mountain View teen's suicide in September caused the accidental death of the boy's father from exposure to a toxic blend of chemicals.

"It's really a tragic amount of death by suicide," said Eduardo Vega, executive director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco.

Vega, who admitted to struggling with depression in his teens, told the audience of more than 40 parents and teens that there are ways to help students who are dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide.

"Nobody needs to die in isolation and despair," Vega said.

Vega advocated bringing a program called "Fire Within" to Palo Alto schools, which uses peer-support and entrepreneurship as tools to take on teen suicide. The goal of the program is to get high school students talking more openly about mental health and pinpoint the root causes of depression and teen suicide.

Fire Within was started by the Carson J. Spencer Foundation and is currently running as a pilot program at Mission High School in San Francisco.

Sally Spencer-Thomas said she started the foundation after her brother died by suicide 10 years ago while struggling with bipolar disorder and that she resolved to find a solution and get "upstream from the crisis of suicide."

Mental health programs, like Fire Within, are important for students struggling through depression, according to Nicole Plata, the youth initiative coordinator for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, particularly for students who have been in and out of foster care or the criminal justice system. The problem is finding a program that actually works, Plata said, indicating that what Palo Alto schools have seen 11 current and former students die in the past several years.

"There's no reason, in the Bay Area, that people should be taking their lives," Plata said.

The key, she said, is to use peer counseling and get students to talk to each other and engage on an emotional level. She said the Fire Within program can get students certified to find fellow classmates at "high risk" and get them to the support services they need.

Plata said she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in college and was able to cope through peer counseling offered through her church.

The Palo Alto students on the panel said talking to fellow students about depression and seeking emotional support from one another could be a helpful tool in dealing with the high stress environment and staving off thoughts of suicide, but so far peer academic pressure is having the opposite effect.

Milla Dzakovic, a Gunn High School student, said there's constant pressure to compete with classmates and strive for perfection and that students are always talking about grades and focusing on academic performance.

Dzakovic said the students at Gunn kicked off a campaign called "We're all in this together" to show support for each other, but that the movement feels shallow and not truthful to the climate at the school; that students are not "in it together."

"Personally, I don't feel connected to the school," she said.

Also on the panel was Carolyn Walworth, a Palo Alto High School student who wrote an opinion piece for the Palo Alto Weekly urging school and district administrators to take the issue of excessive stress seriously.

Walworth agreed that the pressure is coming from other students, and the workload they are expected to carry each school year eclipses opportunities to do non-academic activities because there's just not enough time in the day.

"We're not given that opportunity to do that; it's impossible," she said.

Turning ideas into action

If peer-counseling is an answer to coping with stress and depression, then some local parents are on track.

Trudy Palmer, a Palo Alto parent, has been working with school districts in both Mountain View and Palo Alto to focus attention on mental health services, including a program where students can talk to one another about their problems and have help readily available if they need it.

Palmer is in the very early stages of planning a peer-counseling program for teens at Los Altos High School and is enlisting the help of the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) in Mountain View.

Monique Kane, executive director of CHAC, said the organization is working with Palmer to brainstorm ideas for the program, which she said can be useful for getting help to students who would have otherwise fallen through the cracks.

"You pick up on kids that might never have been seen. Students who are sometimes really depressed," Kane said.

The idea is really more of a brainstorm at this point, Kane said, but it could look like an ongoing group program hosted in the school library, with a therapist present to mediate the group and carefully handle serious discussions on depression and suicidal thoughts.

For now, students struggling with school-related stress have been turning to the ASPIRE program at El Camino Hospital, an acronym for After-School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education.

ASPIRE is an intensive eight-week program in which students meet for several hours four days a week after school and go through "dialectical" behavior therapy to how to manage stress and control their emotions throughout the day, according to Michael Fitzgerald, executive director of Behavioral Health Services at El Camino Hospital.

The program started in 2010 in response to a spike in local teen suicides and has since built up a waiting list, Fitzgerald said.

"This includes kids from Palo Alto with severe suicide risk, so we feel like this program has made a big difference," he said.

The reasons for coming to ASPIRE vary widely, from a student whose biggest stress is a B grade to teens so overwhelmed with anxiety they can't even make it to school.

Enrollment in ASPIRE dives down in the summer, which makes it difficult to maintain the program at a larger capacity during the school year. But that might change as demand is increasing overall, Fitzgerald said, and recent months have seen a big increase in the number of students trying to get in.

Waiting lists are unfortunately par for the course in Santa Clara County, where adolescent mental health services are either minimal or nonexistent at hospitals. Fitzgerald said there are no hospitals in the county with an inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit, meaning if teens at risk of suicide need to be hospitalized, they are sent out of the county to either Fremont or San Mateo. Palmer said this is done with an ambulance at the family's expense.

El Camino Hospital's new behavioral health building is still years away from construction, but it could provide much-needed mental health services to teens in the area, Fitzgerald said. Early designs of the building include walls that can be altered to change how many psychiatric units are in the building, which could fit the fluctuating nature of mental health needs among teens throughout the year.

A worsening problem

Mental health providers in the Bay Area seem to agree that teen depression is getting worse.

Kane said students in the area have gotten "more severely depressed and anxious" in the last few years, and there's been an overwhelming demand for CHAC's mental health therapy services, particularly at the schools where CHAC provides one-on-one therapy to students.

Fitzgerald said the root cause for depression could change from kid to kid and that it's better to concentrate on co-factors -- things that may have contributed and added to stress and anxiety of students who ultimately died by suicde. He said only getting five or six hours of sleep a night probably doesn't cause a suicide, but lack of rest, increased stress, bullying and overuse of technology can all "go into that kid's decision."

Just as multiple factors contribute to teen depression, Fitzgerald said the problem is going to need to be addressed by multiple agencies, including schools, hospitals and families.

"We're going to work together with regional partners," Fitzgerald said. "Nobody is going to go at this alone. We really have to work together as a whole community."

Related content:

Guest opinion: Keep Calm and Parent On

Palo Alto students to school board: 'It's not Gunn's fault'

Palo Alto students: 'Right now is the time to act'

Medical Foundation doctors issue advice on youth mental health

Comments

15 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 10, 2015 at 4:56 pm

I was interested to note that one of the speakers above mentioned that (s)he
was able to get the help needed from church.

I think that we must take seriously the notion that faith organizations and faith itself can be a very great help to all teens. We have many youth organizations doing a lot to help youth in our area and they are not just for those who have grown up in the faith, but to all youth who want help and who want a support group that is not made up of medical professionals, educators or parents.

Looking outside oneself, having some fun in a safe environment away from stresses, challenges, and school or sports life, having mentors that are people just a little older, and being able to hang out and have down time with a group of peers, is something that does a lot to help and support the average teen.

A coordinated effort by faith organizations and youth organizations working together could go a long way in helping the youth of this area cope with their stresses.


28 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 10, 2015 at 5:07 pm

What about too many parents pushing for excellence. This is certainly a contributing factor that needs to be addressed.


18 people like this
Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2015 at 5:44 pm

I'm sitting in my backyard, watching a beautiful day end in the Bay Area, and reflecting on the blessings I've received in my life. And then I come inside and check online, and I hear from Nicole Plata of San Francisco.

"There's no reason, in the Bay Area, that people should be taking their lives," Plata said.

Nicole Plata, it's wonderful that you are reaching out to people and giving your perspective. But I do remember hearing about the suicides at Stanford University, an accredited institution with a select student body even in the old days, about an average of five suicides a year. And I have friends whose kids have committee suicide, and people as far away as New Zealand who could handle the darkness in their lives any longer.

And yes, it is bewildering.

But people do take their own lives. And there's no easy answer. No easy program that will solve everything. No quick fix at Gunn or Paly that will guarantee that all will be well.

Yes, Nicole Plata, let's do all we can to reach out to the lonely and marginalized and desperate people.

But please, no easy, facile answers to a problem which has been with us always.

Please, give just a little credit to everyone in the PAUSD who has worked with such devotion to solve these problems...


28 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 10, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"What about too many parents pushing for excellence."

This is the root of the problem and the one which everyone seems to want to ignore.


35 people like this
Posted by Local Mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 10, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Sorry, I'm disgusted with the "findings" of this "Panel"

They are dodging the real issue. TOO MUCH HOMEWORK!

We've known about it for years. The school has known about it for year. Parent after parent, student after student. We write letters, make videos, talk talk talk. We tell the district: "you are crushing our kids with too much homework".

The solution is to STOP crushing the kids with too much homework. But somehow, that simple answer always gets taken off the table. Somehow, the real solution is never mentioned in the headlines.

It's very important for Palo Alto parents to understand that the school district, the "mental health groups" and all the rest are never going to fix the problem, or even admit the problem. This is a wall of silence and denial that extends throughout our city.

As parents, there is only one way to safeguard our children's lives and mental health. Get them out of Gunn.


26 people like this
Posted by Cjotchat
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 10, 2015 at 8:23 pm

Having a serious talk with tiger parents would be a step on the right direction!


26 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2015 at 2:12 am

There is absolutely nothing wrong with valuing education and excellence, as long as the environment is supportive and work-life balance is part of it. In fact, one concern about all of this is that people are going to tell kids who are already stressed that the answer is to just accept that they aren't all that and stop trying to achieve anything, and smart kids will feel even more worthless/useless and depressed. If you haven't seen this Perspectives on happiness, it's a must read:
Web Link

"Engagement is the creative application of our skills to meet challenges."

Challenges can lead to happiness. Striving for excellence can lead to happiness. It is wrong to tell such smart kids with the whole world before them that their mental health depends on their accepting that they must never dream or strive for excellence.

I'm sure real tiger parents exist, but it's also damaging to both children and parents to accuse involved parents left and right of being tiger parents, or blame parents for what is happening without any foundation. This is also a must read:
Web Link

"The myth that gifted children have pushy parents has many negative effects. ... The myth causes teachers to limit the extent of parental participation and to deny the validity of parental reports.... In addition to their role as observers and reporters, parents have been identified as exceptionally important in the development of gifted school children and unusually talented young adults."

In my observation, parents have been the saving grace in light of schools that destroy creativity and make so many exceptional children feel like failures.

That is not to say everything is perfect. I am the first to admit I was over-the-top yelling, sometimes even screaming at my kid for awhile. Until I realized what was happening: it was classic, what happens when someone crosses your boundaries, really, seriously violates all boundaries. You take it and take it, and then everything comes out. It felt like I had no control of my own life. It seemed like the school required us to put all of our time at their disposal. As someone with health problems, I really rely on the ability to have discretion over my time, home is sanctuary. The intrusion of school into every moment of our lives was affecting my ability to function as a parent and a person, even affecting my health. Add to that the fact that schools send more homework home with kids who are having trouble focusing at school, but talk to parents about it like kids just aren't trying hard enough to be organized, and it's a bad mix. And we all assume - I assumed - that this was just the way it was. We had to work our whole lives around school in order to get a good education, right? It was also difficult just because dealing with the school was so incredibly difficult. There was never anyone who was on our side, who we could trust, and we had to deal with a lot of stressful personalities and behavior.

On the way home, I would try to review with my child what needed to be done when we got home, not just for school. I thought I was helping my child organize, as teachers also demanded. But he would get through one or two things and it would all fall apart, especially if early on some task involved going on the computer, such as for Schoology. The impacts on all of us of a neverending school day were wearing. And even then, important stuff wouldn't get done. I wasn't screaming for A's, I was screaming because I wanted to set a boundary between school and home because it was too too much, and I felt powerless to do it. Especially because of what the teachers were saying, it felt like, Why couldn't he just do this or that? (And by extension make the pain stop? The teachers were even yelling at me when my child hadn't done something major, when it was too late to plan -- instead of enlisting my help at the beginning, telling me at the end when we had family plans that our child basically had to spend all the time doing something for school or fail.) And *I* wasn't getting enough sleep because of all of it, nor was my child.

One thing that really helped me was some radio advice by a neurologist who wrote a book about how modern technology is interfacing with our human brains. He said we can only keep so many pieces of information on the front burner, basically, before we are overwhelmed. I realized that I was keeping both my own short-term stuff AND my child's stuff because of school and the family schedule -- not homework (I don't get involved with homework unless asked and my child is in charge of schoolwork), but just all the things that had to be done to keep things flowing (usual parenting stuff). And then sometimes it was micromanaging (which was stressful in itself) in order to clear some family space, and THAT would create stress and yelling. When I thought I was helping my child organize, I was basically unloading all the stuff I was carrying around for him, and I thought he was just not listening to me or wasn't taking things seriously when they wouldn't get done. What I realized was that he was already carrying around his own stuff, and more was just overload. The doctor's advice was to put all that stuff down on paper several times a day. So one change we made was that on the way home, we had a notebook, and my child would dump all the things rattling around in both our heads onto the paper and prioritize what needed to be done the moment he got in the house. He would tear out the page and work from that.

This helped tremendously as far as my going over the top, but it didn't help my child's stress, because there was just too much homework. Those pages told a story of a child with no personal time or time to stop and think from morning til bedtime. No time to regroup and focus, always someone telling him what to do all the time (from school). Activities that did nothing to make him feel competent, confident, or learned, but instead made him feel he had no time for creative expression, learning things he found interesting, or friends. It was really making my child stressed and depressed.

Another thing that really helped was getting involved in some outside activities that proved to be more rewarding and surprisingly challenging, and seeing my child rise to the occasion (and him seeing it himself) even where it required a lot of focus. When allowed to pursue challenges autonomously, without someone telling him what to do all the time, my child was learning more, doing more, showing curiosity again, and feeling better about himself. Despite the messages the school was sending, that he was too disorganized, average, not good at anything, he was excelling at things he enjoyed doing, including a lot of discipline and focus. That made me realize maybe there was something wrong with the educational system instead of my child. But I was still sometimes just going over the top from the intrusion of school.

Finally this spring, between hard-won concessions from school, less homework (though still too much), and a decision that we were basically not going to put up with this after this year (including the ongoing health problems from the school and not doing things that would otherwise need to be done and thus we have been avoiding spending time dealing with horrible people in the district), things really improved as far as our family stress. We may be scraping our way out with spoons, but it's a lot less stressful than feeling we have no control and there is no way out. For my child, it's a waiting game, waiting out a miserable experience, but knowing we won't put up with it next year has made all the difference. Knowing that whatever it takes, we won't let it continue into highschool has really reduced everyone's stress. (As well as the teachers letting up a lot on the homework. So sad that it took more tragedies, they didn't even let up after the first.)

A fly on the wall might think it was tiger parent to elephant parent, but I was elephant parent all along -- I just needed some tools and a different more empowering perspective.

I read somewhere that some huge percentage of parents yell at their kids about homework, even though a much smaller percentage than that are concerned about their children's grades. Any issues about alleged "tiger" parenting is a boundary problem, not a grade problem. We need healthier boundaries between home and school. Our home time should not be a slush fund for teachers lack of organization about fitting the education within the school day! If kids aren't all subjected to what is essentially a sick hazing ritual we dress up as education, there would be a lot less stress all around.


8 people like this
Posted by selina
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 11, 2015 at 3:03 am

There are many gifted kids who dont succeed.
There are many mediocre kids who do. And some of them end up as professors at Stanford!
And there are gifted kids who are not motivated and pushed by their parents - this is bad
And there are mediocre kids who are not motivated and pushed by their parents - this is bad

And then there are the gifted kids who are self motivated. Dont know WHERE that comes from but it is not Tiger parenting.

Tiger parenting can get your kids into Harvard. But after that its up to them.

So there are only so many gifted AND motivated kids who will be the prize winners.

For the rest of us we had better work out how to be satisfied, interested useful and happy. And that does not involve going to Stanford!


10 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2015 at 9:38 am

Until this community accepts the fact that mental illness can happen to anyone and they overcome the prejudices that it is something to be ashamed of they will never be able to help the youth of Palo Alto. No parent wants to accept the fact that their child may be struggling with serious mental health issues so it's easier to blame the schools, the teachers, too much homework
Etc. It's time to focus on the mental health of the children. Mental illness can happen to anyone of us just as a cancer. Treat the illness . Stop blaming .


15 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2015 at 11:40 am

selina,
You have made good points, but my problem with it is the old ideas about what it means to be gifted. All children have their gifts. Our district's own vision is to support every child's optimal education. We should not be subjecting them to what is essentially a sorting system, that only optimizes education for the few for whom the sorting system is good.


14 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 11, 2015 at 11:42 am

This isn't a problem with tiger parents. This is a problem with "tiger schools". These are schools that are utterly unable to observe healthy boundaries. They push otherwise perfectly healthy kids into stress levels that cause mental illness.

Then they blame the parents, so they can go back and ratchet up the stress again and again.


8 people like this
Posted by Cjochat
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 11, 2015 at 11:55 am

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Cjochat,
You may be right, but you have given two examples from a long time ago, which I don't doubt are true, it's just that my own experience with four school communities involves hundreds and hundreds of the most intelligent, caring, involved, kind parents. I could never have dreamed of such nice school communities when I was a student. That includes kids, parents, and teachers, even though personal experience this year has not been good. I agree with another dad above: the problem is tiger schools.

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 11, 2015 at 2:33 pm

I see both--tiger schools and tiger parents. Yes, the latter are around. Some of them are very nice to other adults. Don't expect that you'll recognize a tiger parent as a fellow parent or assume that they're all at Hoover. [Portion removed.]

So, while I'd agree a lot of Palo Alto parents are lovely, kind people, we do have our share of another kind of parent.


10 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2015 at 2:45 pm

@ OPar,

Every community in the world has a distribution of people. Palo Alto has a surprisingly high number of people who are smart, humble despite great accomplishment, kind, interested in fostering a great school community for all kids, giving, and caring. It is not okay with me that they are constantly tarred with the brush of the few. It doesn't solve anything and only provides fodder for people inclined to say we can't do anything, let's blame the parents. Worse, by extension it is a backhanded way of blaming the suffering parents who are the surviving victims of these tragedies.

More than that, I think we should be focusing on providing an educational program and resources that make such parents beside the point. Right now, those parents are not in any way causing the problems making school here a misery for our family.

A more diverse educational offering
A more supportive and trustworthy administration

Those two things would solve the problem for us and so many people we know. It would probably even solve things for a lot of kids of alleged tiger parents, just in taking the focus off grade sorting system and allowing them more ability to succeed and be supported for doing what makes them happy. I don't even waste brain waves thinking about the tiger parents. It just feeds the meme, which is not the majority of families here. As someone on another thread say, the problem is really the TIGER SCHOOLS.


Like this comment
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Re: the Tiger Schools -- I just realized -- it was this thread!


Like this comment
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Clarification:

"More than that, I think we should be focusing on providing an educational program and resources that make such parents beside the point. Right now, those parents are not in any way causing the problems making school here a misery for our family."

I OF COURSE meant tiger parents when I said "such parents" -- I unfortunately didn't read my post through and it made it sound like I was talking about the suffering parents who we should really be mindful of not adding to their pain. My apologies.


14 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 11, 2015 at 3:04 pm

The fallacy that people constantly fall for....they say "I've met some tiger parents, therefore parents are the problem"

No, parents aren't the problem. Parents affect, at most, a few kids. The school affects hundreds of kids.

The school is the problem that affects us all. The school is far, far out of control. We need to focus on the institution and the school, which is the hinge upon which all this this turns.

Parents by the hundreds have been speaking up and complaining for YEARS. Please don't waste our time claiming this is something new, that needs debate. The school has been footdragging for years. Either they stop footdragging or they will lose millions of dollars in funding, as parents abandon ship. Each child they lose to a private school, is 10K per year lost to the district. Or, they will have more suicides and potentially crippling lawsuits.

This district is in crisis. Other school districts in California are watching. It's frankly ridiculous that they are fussing over Measure A. Measure A is the least of their risks right now.


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 11, 2015 at 5:02 pm

I just looked at this article on the Mountain View site which has been locked to registered users only.

It is interesting to read this post which I have cut and pasted from someone in Cupertino. It seems that they do have similar problems in that District too. Looks like we are not alone.

<<Posted by Cgallo
a resident of another community
22 hours ago

The problem exists in Cupertinoas well, it's not an isolated problem. Kids are given excessive amounts of homework, unreasonable demands and are mentally and physically exhausted. Would like to start a prevention program in Cuprtino! My email cgallo68@hotmail.com >>


7 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 11, 2015 at 10:23 pm

Unconditional,

I don't disagree with you--just pointing out that there is a Tiger-Parent reality here, but it's not the entire reality. One of the things that helps create a Tiger School is the presence of Tiger parents. And the unfortunate fact is that if we want to change the schools, we will get (and are getting) pushback from some of pretty entitled parents. And, frankly, gives the district some cover.

But, as I've posted elsewhere, I can't change the parents, but I can work for a better school district--and, yes, it will help the tiger cubs as well in the long run.


4 people like this
Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 11, 2015 at 11:17 pm

And then there are the "Eagle Dads".
I would FEAR letting down a parent like this.
Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 11, 2015 at 11:50 pm

The first comment made by Parent is very interesting:
>> I think that we must take seriously the notion that faith organizations and faith itself can be a very great help to all teens.

When i was younger as a family we went to church. I always enjoyed the personal contacts, the friendships, etc, and though most religious instituations are becoming more secular ... with one notable exception. Over time most people I know have moved away from religious affilations; and I am not saying that is good, or bad. I would wish that as a society we could have more institutions like this, but without the weird beliefs and rituals and arbitary boundaries that separate people.

It seems clear we need socially formed institutions that are for the needs of the members and fortify the citizenry aspect of sociey and government, just something to bring, ie force, people together to socialize in a non-threatening, non-competitive way, because otherwise this function of society atrophies. Ergo, it seems clear that what people would call socialism has a necessary component that its villification and minimalization has been destructive, by the subject we are discussing. The fact that this destruction is limited mostly to certain sectors of society is no reason to dismiss it.


13 people like this
Posted by AlexDeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2015 at 1:09 am

Com'on it's the parents. 'Tis a good thing folks can understand this. I'm a Palo Alto native and Paly grad, as are my kids. Too much tiger, horrible results.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 12, 2015 at 7:55 am

Article NYTimes Web Link


20 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2015 at 9:03 am

@Alex Delarge said "Com'on it's the parents"

No, it's not. It's the school. There are hundreds of parents like me who have tried to push back on the school, and gotten completely ignored. We parents already know the truth. We have overwhelming evidence and we deal with it every day.

It's the school, it has been for years, and it's time to stop it. We need reasonable controls on what the school does, strict controls of homework for example. Anything less than that will be just "kick the can down the road" evasion that will lead to more dead kids.


24 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2015 at 9:35 am

Gunn and Paly teachers and administrators needs to fix the fact there is TOO MUCH HOMEWORK and GRADE DEFLATION. Especially compared to similar school districts such as Cupertino and Los Altos. Put the well being of the students first.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 12, 2015 at 4:11 pm

@Another Dad, "Each child they lose to a private school, is 10K per year lost to the district. "

If this is true, then I am still confused. Here's a quote from the PAUSD budget book (page 9): "The majority of funding comes from property taxes, independent of enrollment. As enrollment increases, it has the effect of diluting the available property tax dollars."

Sounds like, as enrollment decreases, there would be more property tax dollars available to each remaining student. If half our students departed PAUSD next year, wouldn't the district still collect the same $140M in property tax? I really don't know.


3 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Musical,

I think Another Dad is think of how most districts are funded, which is they get an amount from the state per child. We're basic aid, so we pretty much self-fund out of property taxes. So if a PA child goes private, we don't lose money. This is the big reason the board will fight a charter. Charters would draw out-of-district kids, but the the district wouldn't get the full amount it spends per child in district. Charters don't cost general-aid districts money, but they do cost basic-aid districts.


9 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2015 at 7:15 pm

OPar,

I keep hearing about charters being formed. I not only would like to join an effort, I would like to now so that anyone who has expressed a desire to vote No on the bond and then opt out/give their money elsewhere could be asked to maybe even pledge to a Kickstarter for a charter (that of course wouldn't be funded unless there were enough money). There are startup and legal costs to beginning a charter, though they don't have to be much, with PAUSD they will be, and it's better to just have the commitment for lawyers up front.


6 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2015 at 7:18 pm

The big deal with our district and charters is mostly CONTROL and SECRECY. Probably reason enough for us to be for a good charter option...


6 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 12, 2015 at 7:57 pm

>"What about too many parents pushing for excellence."

This is the root of the problem and the one which everyone seems to want to ignore.

@Peter Carpenter: Exactly.


1 person likes this
Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 12, 2015 at 8:39 pm

I regret sending my son to public school.
Many years ago there was student in his class at Walter Hays that wrote a paper about why he would never resort to committing suicide. I know this because he came home and asked me what the word meant. Apparently the child's parent was a counselor or something. I was really shocked that kids in Third or Fourth grade even knew what the word meant.

If I could do it over, I wish I would have sent him to a private Catholic or Christian school, but there are not many around here.


24 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2015 at 11:45 pm

Dear Craig and Peter,

With all due respect, I hope you will read my post above. The problem is the schools, and what they are doing BOTH to our kids and our parents.

I don't think there is a situation where people couldn't find a way to blame parents: Think about it. The parents are too easy on the kids, they don't discipline them. The parents are too hard on their kids, they are too strict. The parents put too little emphasis on education and don't teach their kids to work hard. The parents put too much emphasis on education and push their kids to work too hard. The parents are too involved/The parents aren't involved. I hope you get my point.

Blaming parents won't solve the problems. The schools can't control what they get in parents -- these are public schools, they don't get to pick and choose -- and frankly, our schools have it about as optimal as it gets (!!) But the schools have a lot of control over how much support or stress they place on children and families, and how intrusive the education is in the lives of the children and families.

Parents who find themselves at their wits end and yelling at their kids will just assume they must be the problem. A fly on the wall would think the parents are the problem, when parents are only essentially being human in understandable circumstances. Please think carefully about blaming parents, because all they will do is blame themselves, and it won't solve anything.

There is nothing wrong with parents seeking a good education for their children, in fact in almost every area of life, it's a good thing. Even healthcare outcomes track education level of the patient better than virtually any other factor.

Do you really think Palo Alto parents are so different than certain parts of, say, Sunnyvale, where they have even more of the much maligned stereotype people are blaming but not the suicide problem?

Neither of you are parents in this district, so you have no idea about the parents. Personally, if you'd told me I could find a community of such caring, involved, nice people when I was growing up, I would never have believed it. It's one of the things that keeps us here. There is a spectrum of people everywhere -- even in private schools (where you have even less say about solving problems if you aren't a major donor).


2 people like this
Posted by Developing A Moral Vocabulary
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 13, 2015 at 8:27 am

There are no easy fixes, it's true, but David Brooks ran a op-ed column yesterday that has some important ideas to think about as part of this discussion:

Web Link

I'm planning to share and discuss this column with my teenagers. I hope others will too.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Adobe-Meadow

on Apr 13, 2015 at 8:53 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


4 people like this
Posted by grad parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 10:43 am

Wow, Unconditional, you are so right on in your first post! (no time to read the rest of the comments)


17 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:04 am

@Unconditional is right

The school system slams kids with abusive levels of homework, and this drive parents and children both crazy. Kids end up anorexic, depressed, on ADHD drugs, etc.

Look at the root cause: crushing, abusive levels of homework.

What's the fix? Stop giving abusive levels of homework.

Stop blaming the parents for what has already been shown, a dozen different ways, to be a problem originating with the school. Stop telling parents "they should move away"...we pay our tax money, we have a right to a SAFE school.


8 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:11 am

@Developing A Moral Vocabulary

I think David Brook's editorial you linked is nice, but irrelevant to the problem.

Kids don't need a "moral bucket list". This does nothing to help when they are being slammed every day by destructive and unmanageable levels of workload from schools.

What they need is for us adults to stop the schools from abusing kids. Everything else is a distraction.


2 people like this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:31 am

I feel stressed reading all these reactions. We, adults and students, need to spend a lot more time playing, enjoying the outdoors and volunteering in places other than our insular community. These are just a few things that can restore some balance.

Students can choose different, more balanced, classes or chose not to do all the homework. You will still get into college if you want to and will create a great life for yourself--if you want to. Lean Out, just a little Palo Alto.


15 people like this
Posted by Read what the kids are actually saying
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:45 am

From the article:

"Milla Dzakovic, a Gunn High School student, said there's constant pressure to compete with classmates and strive for perfection and that students are always talking about grades and focusing on academic performance.

"Dzakovic said the students at Gunn kicked off a campaign called "We're all in this together" to show support for each other, but that the movement feels shallow and not truthful to the climate at the school; that students are not "in it together."

And:

"Walworth agreed that the pressure is coming from other students, and the workload they are expected to carry each school year eclipses opportunities to do non-academic activities because there's just not enough time in the day."

The kids themselves are saying that the pressure comes FROM THE OTHER KIDS. Now, why is that? It's not because they're all little Lord of the Flies brats who want to make each other miserable. It's because they live in a world where they are only being measured by one thing -- how good they will look on a college application. Everything boils down to that for them. And they all know they're competing against each other. They've absorbed the message that they have to go to a "top school" -- that if they don't get admission to one of only about 20 schools in the country, they've failed at the past 4 years of their lives.

Even if you are a very relaxed, laissez-faire parent, your kid is still absorbing this message. Even if the schools reduce the amount of homework, it will still happen.

Now, that said, I TOTALLY AGREE that there should be less homework. It shouldn't even be a question. Look at all of us parents -- we didn't have half the homework these kids did. Are we stupider than they are? Is homework really helping them in any way? And as the article says, the fact that there are multiple reasons why a kid chooses to take his own life means that if you can eliminate just one of those reasons -- anxiety over homework, lack of sleep due to too much homework -- maybe that will make the difference. It's easy, it's obvious, it's low-cost.


10 people like this
Posted by A Gradnma
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 13, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Many people have insisted that there's one big problem that's stressing our kids. I suspect all the problems that have been put forth are part of the problem.

One problem I have not seen mentioned as much is the problem of over-scheduled and over-protected kids. Age two or three is not too early to start to teach children to make their own decisions - and this is particularly important - to accept the consequences of their decisions. Do they want vanilla or chocolate ice cream? They choose vanilla. They get vanilla. If they then change their mind and cry for chocolate, they don't get chocolate. They're not rescued from their initial choice.

Let kids make their own choices and take responsibility for themselves in age appropriate ways and they'll develop resilience and an ability to cope with disappointments and problems.

My kids walked to school BY THEMSELVES starting in Kindergarten, and by third grade they were taking three public buses each way to get to a more distant school. They learned to find their way around, they knew what to do if they were "bothered" by a stranger, and they knew how to make phone calls from a public phone booth (in the days before cell phones.) My son (who has a master's degree from Stanford) chose not to take AP physics in high school even though he had the math background. He said, "I don't want to work that hard." And that was OK with us. There are many other examples.

Let the kids grow up strong and capable.


7 people like this
Posted by Diane
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2015 at 12:50 pm

The sad thing is that high levels of stress (brought about by an amalgam --- schools, parents, competition for college, society) negatively changes personal experience. Changes memories, changes lives. This is happening at a pivotal age and there are long-term ramifications. The internal changes brought about by stress and extreme expectations often continue to unravel throughout life no matter what the external success may be.


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 13, 2015 at 1:49 pm

I know parents who told me they left Palo Alto over two things : some parents in the community who are constantly pushing for more homework and harder curriculum around STEM with the resulting competition infusing the student body, and Gunn which does the same for its own reasons, which includes but isn't limited to accommodating those parents (harder: standing in national ranking for one; more: no way to look at the cumulative amount of homework across an academic day, and no interest in doing anything aboutit. One family I know told me that they were selling at a reduced price to get away from Gunn.


6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2015 at 2:22 pm

As far fetched as this may seem, has anyone considered inviting the CDC to come in and take a look at these suicides and the previous ones as a series of deadly epidemics. To me, there needs to be well-investigated, coordinated process here.

We and the school are desperate to find a way to stop this, and I've no doubt there will be some number of basic themes: too much homework, fierce student competition, some families who put on extraordinary pressure for perfection and winning, student life style, some individual teacher issues, some leadership issues, parents who yell bc they're stressed too, depression, etc. But I believe there will be two or three systemic problems that cause some dozen or more children to kill themselves, outside the their individual state of mind, that stand out and can guide choices for intervention. I know for sure that no school wants to be so awful that kids kill themselves because of it, no parent wants to push a kid to suicide, no teacher piles on homework to harm a kid. If anyone is into that, they're sick, but it would be so rare. Maybe there is a systematic investigation on systemic issues going on by an outside organization and I don't know about it. I hope so.



8 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 13, 2015 at 2:41 pm

@ Unconditional: I raised two kids who went to Paly (graduated in 2004 and 2005). I thought Paly offered a pretty good mix of opportunities, depending on the academic drive of the students/parents. My kids had no particular drive to be academic stars, and they took no AP classes. I had no problem with their choices. I did make sure that they finished their homework, at the living room table, before they started play time. I never thought it was a big deal. Never paid a tutor or for SAT prep courses, either. Both of my kids have a fulfilling life.

So yes, it IS the parents who are bringing on the stress, NOT the school. If the parents stop insisting that their kids go to a high prestige college, then much of this current issue will solve itself. Parents need to look into their own mirrors, and stop the denial.


5 people like this
Posted by Margaret
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 13, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Gradnma is right....

Schools are prisons, Kids are not allowed to be kids, not allowed to get to know the streets and nature of where we live, growing up only in the shadow of the parents expectations of their own lives....

Inside the school box, behind the fences. Without training in ways of living in any way that contributes to the future the children are certain is coming.... you cannot please both yourself and your parents in this existence

Society is in turmoil, governments are corrupt beyond repair, the best you can do within this framework is to be a good corrupt adult driven only by greed and materialism, then at least the adults say they like you

The only way to learn to live is to not have your life scheduled by your parents, being driven around to soccer practice between video games in the bedroom.... we have nowhere left to wander, nowhere to be natural humans





10 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2015 at 6:48 pm

@ Craig Laughton,

OK. I looked in the mirror. I am not insisting my kid go to a prestigious college. The only time college has come up, my child expressed a thought that traveling for a year after high school sounded good followed by attending Foothill first. Sounds good to me, too.

Our child has no electronic devices, no computer in the bedroom. We did not get complaints when the homework level was reasonable. We get complaints now that the homework level is unreasonable. Even if our child carves out time, friends have no time because of homework. Our district data shows the kids are mostly spending time on homework and doing little of anything else, even spending time with friends. Ask my kid if you don't believe me - but then, none of the adults at school listen to the kids either. They seem just as bent on blaming parents with no basis as you do.

Your generalizing from your own situation by saying, it wasn't a problem for you, therefore it must be the parents does not follow. Your experience has not been my own experience. Why do you think your experience of 10-15 years ago is more valid than our own, current experience?

The opportunities available today to transform the classroom experience so kids can get just as good an education without all the homework are world's better than they were even 5 years ago, much less 10-15 years ago.

You once made some very reasonable posts about your best math teacher not even requiring homework - what changed?


7 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 13, 2015 at 7:29 pm

Craig,

You're missing the point. I can't give kids new parents. I can, however, work to create a healthier school environment. Unless you can say the school environment has zero effect on the stress and depression in our students, then it's worth looking at what we can do about the schools.

Thus, eliminating the academic zero period and its correlation to suicidal thinking. Thus, my desire to see teachers use Schoology so we can gather accurate stats on the homework load in the district and see if it complies with the district's own policies.

These both seem clearcut, obvious things to do--it's appalling how much pushback there's been given that we have kids killing themselves.


2 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 13, 2015 at 7:31 pm

>You once made some very reasonable posts about your best math teacher not even requiring homework - what changed?

@Unconditional: Yes, I did. Homework is not necessary, if a class in math is properly taught. However in classes like English lit., it is necessary (gotta read Moby Dick, before a productive discussion can ensue).

You seem to be saying that there is much more homework today, compared to 10 years ago. Is this true? I seem to remember that the academic star students did a ton of homework...some of them also played (and even starred) in sports (they tended to go to Stanford and Harvard, etc.). However, most kids were not in this higher track. Mine weren't, yet they still had about 1-2 hours hours of homework per night(sometimes more). They also had 6 AM sports workouts for swimming and pre-season baseball.

Kids have a lot of natural energy, so I wouldn't worry about overload at that level. I would worry about stress caused by parental expectations.


8 people like this
Posted by Tiger Moms
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 13, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Peter Carpenter's comment and other peoples comments hit the nail on the head. Much of our teenage suicide problem stems from overly aggressive parents. Parents that push their children too hard. And yes, this is the root of our suicide problem, but people don't want to admit it. They dance around the issue. [Portion removed.] Tiger Moms are driving their children to suicide. It's incredible the demands many of them make on their kids. Palo Alto's suicide problem is not going away.


4 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 13, 2015 at 7:48 pm

>Thus, eliminating the academic zero period and its correlation to suicidal thinking.

@ OPar: Is there evidence that the kids in the suicide clusters were part of early morning (zero period) classes? If so, please provide. Or, are you saying that the provision of an opportunity for driven academic students to do well (by working hard) is depressing to students/parents who can't accept the consequences of their own lesser efforts?


11 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2015 at 9:02 pm

@Craig Laughton,
At least before the latest tragedies, my kid had about 4-6 hours of homework every night in middle school and weekends, a lot of it busy work, and still not keeping up, and not including school projects that were just neglected. There are no advanced track except for math, which was not the problem.

The PAMF doctors included a recommendation to provide opportunities for kids to do creative endeavors. For some kids, this is isn't an optional perk, this is letting them be who there are and essential to keep their spirits alive. When there is no time for this, no time to let kids like this dream, it's absolutely soul deadening.

The other problem with this line of thinking is assuming the challenge of the work is proportional to homework. My kid was also depressed from being bored in school, feeling a little warehoused.

The existing school program is a terrible match for children like this, and it's not like it couldn't be changed with even fewer resources than currently. You have to TRY to make a kid like this lose excitement for learning, and that is what our system has done.


2 people like this
Posted by Palo Verde Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 13, 2015 at 9:45 pm

@Craig Laughton
I appreciate your perspective and I wish it was still true today that average students could get into mid level colleges, unfortunately that is not the case. In the last 5 - 10 years the competition for admission to college has increased 10 fold. Here are examples for students I personally know in Palo Alto

1) 3.9 (unweighted) GPA, 1 AP class, 2080 SAT and did NOT get into any of the UC's he applied to: Davis, Santa Cruz, San Diego, did NOT get into Cal Poly SLO

2) 3.8 (unweighted) GPA, 4 AP classes in US hist, Bio, Calc and Psych. 32 ACT did not get into Santa Barbara, SanDiego, UCLA. Did get into Davis as this is the minimum Davis is admitting from PAUSD.

The list goes on and on. Kids are just not getting into what used to be mid level UC's - Davis, Santa Cruz without multiple AP and very high tests scores and GPA's. San Diego State and Cal Poly SLO are also extremely hard to get into. The competition is just overwhelming for so many kids. They can get into mid level privates: Loyola Marymount, Chapman, University of San Diego (small private one), but those come with hefty price tags.


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Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2015 at 10:44 pm

Palo Verde Parent,
Of course, all those schools you mentioned are very good schools, especially Chapman. But you are right, hefty cost. Private schools give kids much more attention, though, it can be easy to get lost at big UC's, so there are compensations.

I read something that said grades are kind of a commodity, all schools expect them as a baseline. They are then looking at everything else for that extra something. We are not doing our kids any favors if college entrance is the issue by chaining them to the desks (aside from all the other ills). Kids need a life, after school jobs.

In Switzerland, all kids learn the chocolate business in school like kids in CA learn about missions. Why don't our kids also learn entrepreneurship by just doing, trying, experimenting, failing, having fun, solving problems? Isn't the best time to try this when you are living home with parents anyway???


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Posted by Did everyone see this NY Times column?
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:30 pm

"Best, Brightest -- and Saddest?"

Web Link

From the column:

PALO ALTO, Calif. — I HAD heard about all of the dying, about all of the grief, and still I didn’t immediately understand what I was seeing when, at a railroad crossing here, I spotted a man in a blaring orange vest, the kind that road crews and public-safety workers wear. He wasn’t carrying any equipment. He wasn’t engaged in any obvious activity. He shuffled his feet, staring into the distance.

Hours later, at the same crossing: an orange-vested woman. Like the man, she just stood there, without evident purpose.

“They’re on the lookout,” a friend of mine who lives here explained.

“For what?” I asked.

“Suicides,” my friend said.


5 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:36 pm

Craig,

The evidence against early classes for adolescents is strong enough that the local medical community and the AAP spoke up against it. There are, of course, confidentiality issues regarding individual students, but when you have 200 students considered to be at high-risk, you look at how to create a healthier environment.

You need to understand that suicide is the last stop--for every suicide, dozens more are considered at high-risk. Each suicide makes others in the community more vulnerable to it. We have schools where a quarter of the student body are significantly depressed. This is *not* a healthy environment.

Your kids graduated ten years ago. Things change--not the least being the increased difficulty of getting into the UC system. The old option of a high-quality, affordable public university education in California has become less and less accessible. I'm a native--it's amazing to me how much less accessible the UCs have become over the last 20 years.


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Posted by sad perspective
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2015 at 7:05 am

OPar,

Sadly, Palo Alto's high school students suffer in pretty much the same numbers as teens across the state and nation attending schools from underperforming to excelling, in communities that are underserved to well-off.

Here are the numbers:

High school students reporting that, in the past 12 months, they had been so sad or hopeless every day for at least two weeks that they stopped doing some usual activities - an indicator of depression.

PAUSD

26% 9th grade
30% 11th

SANTA CLARA COUNTY

27% 9th grade
31% 11th

-------"21% of youth in California ages 12-17 reported needing help for emotional or mental health problems, such as feeling sad, anxious, or nervous."--------

CALIFORNIA

31% 9th grade
32% 11th

-------"19% of youth in California ages 12-17 reported needing help for emotional or mental health problems, such as feeling sad, anxious, or nervous."--------

UNITED STATES

Almost 30% of high school students

----------"Depression is one of the most common emotional health problems among teens, estimated to affect 15-20% of youth under 18 in the U.S. "----------

Web Link
Web Link




3 people like this
Posted by Green mom/silvia
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:28 am

Dear Pannelists: Peer support? Wonderful, and at the core of the solution. But in order for this to work, we need to change the competitive culture. How can someone open their most vulnerable selves to their very competition? The students said it clearly.I insist: cooperative schools Vs competitive schools. Please start with the cooperative hour, where peers help each other catch up on school work. Every week, twice a week. Make it a culture.
To Parent, who pointed to the church youth groups, YES! we need more of them, teens need to soround themselves wih supportive people their age,let the peer presure change to peer support. I am looking for a youth grtoup that is fun and appealing for my teen. If you know of one, please let me know.
scabalxia11@hotmail.com


10 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:41 am

@sad perspective,

There's a saying that goes: There's lies, damned lies, and statistics.

The thing is, if you compare Palo Alto youth to the rest of the nation in terms of how many drink, smoke, have sex, take drugs, deal drugs, commit prostitution, commit other misdemeanors and felonies, drop out of school, don't go to college, can't read, are regularly suspended from school, what you find is nothing like the national average, the kids here are highly unusual in having almost none of the risk factors for teens that indicate the kids basically don't have a future. Many of those factors are part and parcel of sadness and hopelessness, so it's not equating apples to apples to compare rates.

Secondly, you seem to be saying that if the rates are the same, you can't do anything about it. Did you know that many insurance companies offer a discount to certain professions, including engineers, because they are more likely to wear their seatbelts, keep the batteries to date in the smoke detectors, and not smoke, drink etc.? Point being, statistics are just statistics, they don't say anything about whether or not you can affect those statistics through behavior. One would expect kids in this community to wear their seatbelts more often -- if it wasn't happening and our stats on accident outcome became average, it's not a reason to blow off a renewed effort to get kids to wear their seatbelts again, especially since the demographic here is likely to do far better than the national average.


1 person likes this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 14, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Thanks Unconditional,

Yep, given the high rates of poverty among the young and the high drop-out rate in California, there's something deeply wrong in Palo Alto if we have depression rates akin to those of kids who face no jobs, poverty and are likely to drop out of school.


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Posted by Green mom/silvia
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2015 at 1:05 pm

To David and all:
Mental health, mental health. What causes a breakdown in mental health? Some mental health problems are just genetic, or hereditary. But many, as with cancer or tuberculosis, or many more, are endemic, caused by a harmful environment that stresses the organism until you get breakdown in the immune system- or in your mental health. Stress is poison, it shoots up the adrenaline in our bodies to engage in the fight or flight response to danger. This is a healthy and necessary mechanism, but when you live in such mode, you will have a breakdown in your immune system, your health and yes, your mental health. You can prove it with rats in the lab. (please don’t, is just a saying, we already know it, don’t subject the poor creatures to unnecessary suffering).In many cases Mental health is not an isolated event. It happens in a context, and over time. What this means to us, is that we have to provide a healthy education environment, not a corrosive one. We have to provide air to breath, nutritious food, shelter and sleep, if we want healthy children. Stress, overload, fear of being left behind, fear of being labeled less capable than others by peers or teachers, or the system, (as we do when we sort them with tracks), lack of rest and time to regroup, time to pursue personal interests, etc.. all this feels like constant danger to our primitive parts of the brain, the one that gets into the fight or flight mode. This creates stress, especially during adolescence, when people still don’t have the experience to realize “those things really do not matter”. It is a matter of life or death to them.


4 people like this
Posted by Green mom/silvia
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Do we know what are the depression rates in youth, in other countries like Canada, Norway, Finland, etc? Can we learn from those countries and their excellent education systems? The fact that teen depression is so prevalent in ALL the USA, makes it mandatory to reevaluate our education system, to begin with.


3 people like this
Posted by Legacy
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 14, 2015 at 1:56 pm

My kids have witnessed, and been told of by schoolmates who have tiger parents, that they arepunished severely for unacceptable grades, such as a 3.5 average, preventing a 4.0 average in High School.

Some were temporarily shunned or disowned, but I think the worst was the middle school student whose puppy was returned to the pound. Being deprived of sleep and food was also especially cruel.

Apparently, these things are acceptable in some parts of the world, but as long as they live here, shouldn't the school let them know that these abuses could get them sent to prison and their children to foster homes?


7 people like this
Posted by Don't Allow It
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2015 at 2:51 pm

@Legacy: Why don't you report it online to CPS? Santa Clara County takes abuse seriously and will send out a person to interview the parents. How can you just sit on the sidelines and allow this to occur? I know someone whose husband hit her (did not hit the children nor did the children witness it) and a CPS representative was sent to the school and home.

Web Link

Otherwise, report it to Gunn's counseling services so they can speak to the student without the parent's knowledge.


7 people like this
Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 14, 2015 at 3:19 pm

The highest numbers of student suicides and extreme levels of cheating are seen in the hardest (most competitive) high schools in this country - with the highest percentage of Asian and East Indian students.

Cheating:
Web Link

Web Link


Suicides -Ten suicides in 10 weeks:
Web Link

Academic pressure begins in competitive middle school, and it's relationship to depression.
Web Link

The highest numbers of student suicides and cheating is related to demographics.


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Posted by sad perspective
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2015 at 3:34 pm

Unconditional,

You are right. Fewer students in Palo Alto have the vices you list but your list (drinking, smoking, sex, drugs, prostitution, and crime) are not causes of depression.

Causes of depression include untreated genetic/chemical/hormonal miscues and imbalances; inflicted children of parents who earn six figures are not spared. Nor are they immune to traumas from accidents, the death of a loved one, contentious divorces, and even for some, sadly, abuse.

Some triggers happen in the same proportion here too. 11% of children in CA struggle in school, a stressor for them, because of a diagnosed learning difference. 10% in Palo Alto do. www.kidsdata.org





1 person likes this
Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 14, 2015 at 4:05 pm

PA mom is a registered user.

I've read in other Palo Alto Weekly articles about the PAUSD that there are a group of "insider" parents (Terri Lobdell's articles, I think) who make large donations to the school district, and who are therefore given special treatment to show their appreciation. I wonder if the views expressed by that group of insider parents are heeded more by the district, and if that group of parents want to uphold the same rigor that is overstressing so many kids. I wonder if the district feels beholden the that groups' donations and therefore refuses to change their policies for fear of losing that funding. Not claiming that's true, just wonder what goes on in the inner working of PAUSD that perpetuates the problem, if indeed the problem originates in PAUSD.


5 people like this
Posted by A Parent too
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 14, 2015 at 8:16 pm

@another PALY parent- I sense bias in your post in blaming Asian kids as if somehow a whole culture is at fault. There is no national data to back your claim. In fact in the NY Times article that you shared, the interim Principal who put an end to the cheating and established an honesty code is an ASIAN too- let's keep perspective here. Our kids are watching and emulating our biases. They are fortunate to be growing up in a diverse area - they are going to be working in diverse workplaces. Let's take the lead from our students who have eloquently spoken at Board meetings and end the finger pointing, please. Let's address the real issues.


5 people like this
Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2015 at 8:38 pm

@sad

You're just wrong. All of those risky behaviors are related to depression. Depressive illness and sadness from the loss of a loved one are different, by the way.

For starters, alcohol is related to depression, that's no mystery. Alcohol is a depressant, and addiction and depression are not unrelated.

Here's just one of many papers Web Link
(Depressive symptoms and drinking patterns in 1st year college students)
"Results indicated that specific depression symptoms correlated with alcohol consumption"

Web Link
Depression Often Follows Risky Teen Behavior
Study: Teen Sex and Drug Use Raises Depression Risk,
"Findings from the study show depression came after substance and sexual activity, not the other way around,"

"Depression and Risky Behavior
Why self-destructive behavior may accompany depression and what to do about it."

So, we have seriously depressed teens exhibiting none of the other self-destructive behaviors of other teens nationally. My point is that you brought up our depression rates and compared them to national depression rates as a way of dismissing the need to do anything or perhaps our ability to do anything, but we don't have nearly comparable rates of ANY of the other risky behaviors associated with depression. You cannot compare. It doesn't even matter, because regardless of how we compare, we ARE able to take actions that have an impact to improve our students' happiness, education, and mental health.


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Posted by sad perspective
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2015 at 9:25 pm

Unconditional,

How did you conclude that my mentioning a national problem means that I am "dismissing the need to do anything?" I am not. There is a pressing need for adults to help both here and elsewhere.

BTW related symptoms (your point) are not the same as causes (mine).


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Posted by teen
a resident of Nixon School
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:12 pm

@Unconditional


No you're just wrong.


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Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:12 pm

sad,

I don't even want to engage in an argument. You are clearly not a health professional and neither am I. I can, however, use Google and read. I just gave you links to a few medical studies that talked about CAUSES ("Findings from the study show depression came after substance and sexual activity, not the other way around,"), and that was just a sampling in a sea of other information.

As for what you brought up, sadness from normal life events like loss is not the same as clinical depression, and arbitrarily saying it is after a certain period of time is actually a controversy in diagnosis. "Chemical imbalances" are just the biological manifestation and say nothing at all about environmental or even endogenous causes.

Agreed that if statistics are that bad nationally, there is a national problem. But disagree that it means or implies it is the same problem, since in every other risky behavior -- behaviors that are not unrelated to overall depression numbers -- we are SO different than the average. Two nations may have the same rate of infant mortality but this gives you no information about the cause in each case, for one nation it may be dengue fever, for another it may be maternal nutrition.

The implication of your post was that there was any relationship between the national rates and what is going on locally. Given the bigger picture in this district, that's not only a stretch, it's probably wrong.


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Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:17 pm

@ teen,
What am I wrong about? I have read the district's studies, posted on the district website. Have you? They survey all the students in certain grades.

Teens in our district don't have zero risky behavior - so if you know people, that does not mean I am wrong - but the rates are dramatically lower than kids in other places (dramatically lower than kids I went to school with!)

If you are speaking for yourself, though, because of feeling left out or despair or just not being hopeful about the future, please talk to an adult you trust. You have your whole life ahead of you, and life is indeed very different when you leave high school


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Posted by Klara
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 15, 2015 at 8:47 am

The part of the problem is environmental.To much competition and to little room for play and self discovery.Lack of real role models real everyday heroes.Perspective lost and people going in wrong direction to look for solution.Thre is more to life than chasing all the wrong things under pressure.


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Posted by Diane
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2015 at 11:19 am

Just out of curiosity… did anyone read the Op-ed in the New York Times this week (April 11) on this very issue?
"Best, Brightest — and Saddest?" I thought the comments were also interesting, several from students who went to school in the area.
Web Link


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Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 15, 2015 at 12:01 pm

"The thing is, if you compare Palo Alto youth to the rest of the nation in terms of how many drink, smoke, have sex, take drugs, deal drugs, commit prostitution, commit other misdemeanors and felonies, drop out of school, don't go to college, can't read, are regularly suspended from school, what you find is nothing like the national average, the kids here are highly unusual in having almost none of the risk factors for teens that indicate the kids basically don't have a future. "
It's worth pointing out that a lot of top-tier colleges have demographics more similar to Palo Alto: most students are from wealthy and well-educated families, students try hard and are intelligent, the drop out rate is low and most students don't go on to become felons... yet these schools have the same problems we do. While it's certainly true that having fewer problems probably reduces the likelihood of depression, I don't think the effect is as great as you think it is.

Article on suicides in the Ivy League:
Web Link
Article on depression at Harvard (less recent):
Web Link
"According to the results, 47.4 percent of students at the College reported feeling depressed at least once during the past academic year, and about a third say they’ve felt overwhelmed 11 or more times—the highest category choice.

Almost ten percent of students said that they had been clinically diagnosed with depression, and more than half of those students said that diagnosis came within the last year. In 2000, only a third of students who said they were clinically depressed said they had been diagnosed in the past year."

Also while I agree with most of your claims about PA being "better" than other areas, I honestly can't say from what I've observed whether the average PA teen drinks more or less than the average teen in the US. Here's what I could find on the topic:
Web Link
"A recent survey of 16 Paly English classes revealed that while 56% of Paly students have consumed alcohol in a non-religious capacity, only 28% of students drink at parties"
From Web Link
"The Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in 2013, discovered that among high school students in the past 30 days: 35% drank alcohol"
I think we're much closer to the national average than it appears.


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Posted by Legacy
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 15, 2015 at 12:22 pm

I have indeed reported many abuses [portion removed] to CPS and to the police. Most recently, a mom locked her small daughter out of the house on a cold December night. I called police, who talked to the mom then reported back to me. They told me that they informed the woman that she could not do this [portion removed.]

Turns out, the neighbors on the other side have reported these [portion removed] parents several times, which may be why they are suddenly selling their house. [Portion removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 20, 2015 at 8:10 am

Let me add a slightly different take on the problem after a recent event... After calling crisis hotline for 'help' the police arrived and put the victim in handcuffs (this is standard operating procedure) then transported to Valley Medical were victim was detained in conditions resembling 'one flew over the cuckoos nest.' the end result was that the victim will never call the hotline again if in crisis. This is terribly disturbing as that in itself may make the difference between life and death. Our community is 'fat, dumb, and happy' thinking that all we need to do is get the kids to call and all will be good. We have no idea how broken the system is. Once we get our children to call the number and get into the system, we let them down by walking them off of a cliff! I am trying to bring visibility of this problem with the hope of driving funding and advocacy for solution and change.


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Posted by Unconditional
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2015 at 10:05 am

@ C
Rather than an informal survey of Paly English classes, you may want to take a look at the different comprehensive surveys the district does, like the development assets survey and CHK. Those are posted on the website. If you look at the comprehensive data, it shows the kids here are probably on the very tail end of the bell curve as far as not engaging in stupid risky behavior that indicates not thinking about the future.

@Parent from Crescent Park,
Thank you for sharing that story. How awful. And it probably doesn't stop there -- the school district's end of the system is equally messed up in its own way and even worse, often ends up adding stress to the students and families in a persistent and long-term way. We really desperately need a focus on trust.


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Posted by Japs
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 20, 2015 at 6:02 pm

[Post removed]


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Posted by Question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2015 at 6:55 pm

I clicked on the above but it seems like a hoax. Hope no malware downloaded.


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Posted by @Question
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2015 at 7:00 pm

It's a troll spamming their page here. Best thing to do is to hit the "Report Objectionable Content" link.


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Posted by Joe Bloe
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2015 at 11:22 pm

I went to Palo Alto schools from 1960 to 1973. I went to Hoover (at Hoover park), Walter Hays, Jordan and Paly. During that time, no student ever committed suicide by train, ever. Same schools, same tracks, same trains, same crossings. There were no fences, no guards, no signs, no help lines -- and no suicides.

My family, our neighbors and relatives were not college educated for the most part. They worked for the phone company, the post office, for Del Monte and Southern Pacific in the city. There were no immigrants among them; that's just the way it was. There were no silicon-valley tycoons, no McMansions. At the time we were preoccupied with the Vietnam war, pot and LSD. Boys were growing their hair long. The hooligans among us used to pour laundry detergent into the fountain at California Avenue, filling it with soap suds.

PAUSD prepared us for college but there was no intense pressure to go to Harvard or excel at soccer, either from the school system or from parents. A grade of "B" was not considered the cultural equivalent of a grade of "F".

The 400-pound gorilla which people like to ignore is that there has been a vast cultural shift in Palo Alto which parallels the growth of Silicon Valley starting around the 1980s. People now flock to Palo Alto from far and wide because they smell money, bringing with them a culture of avarice and materialism.

Doesn't it strike you as odd that we never hear of student suicide clusters in more modest working-class communities such as Sunnyvale, Belmont and South S.F.? Same tracks, same trains.

To parents looking for the cause of depression and suicide among your children, may I suggest the following? Park your SUV in the driveway of the Mcmansion you built on the site of the quaint old house you demolished, and look long and hard in the mirror.


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Posted by Paly Alum '83
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 21, 2015 at 11:53 pm

@Joe Bloe: It's amusing that you are comparing today with the 60s and 70s. Things have changed, and it's not all due to the residents. PAUSD secondary schools are much more academically difficult than when I attended. Even AP classes were easier than they are now. Colleges are requiring 4.0 GPAs for entrance to all but 2 of the UCs. Count yourself fortunate to have lived a more simple life. I, too, wish it were like back in the day where we had loads of free time to hang-out and could relax and enjoy life. And there was practically no traffic, no cars cutting through our city.


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