News

Palo Alto's Project Safety Net seeks input on youth suicide

Responses to inform Center for Disease Control and Prevention's epidemiology study

Palo Alto youth well-being collaborative Project Safety Net has issued a survey to gather more information about perceptions and beliefs around youth well-being and suicide prevention. The data will be used to inform the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s epidemiology study, currently underway, of the community's teen suicide clusters.

Because the study, called an "Epi-Aid," is epidemiological in nature and does not include the gathering of any new data, Project Safety Net decided to create and disseminate a survey that would allow more community members to participate in the process, Executive Director Mary Gloner said.

It's also a way of reaching more stakeholders, particularly students, since CDC representatives visiting Palo Alto in May only met with various groups of city, school district and community leaders, Gloner said.

"There wasn't as much opportunity for the broader community, especially youth, to contribute during the earlier field studies of the Epi-Aid," she told the Weekly.

The survey, she said, "was a mechanism and commitment to make this available to the community."

Epi-Aids are short-term investigations designed to address emergencies. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department formally filed the request for the study on behalf of the school district last year. (Public health authorities must invite the CDC to assist in an investigation within their jurisdiction.)

Objectives of this study include, according to Project Safety Net: to characterize the epidemiology of, and trends in, fatal and non-fatal suicidal behaviors among youth occurring from 2008 through 2015 in Santa Clara County; examine the degree to which media coverage of youth suicides met reporting guidelines; inventory and compare youth suicide prevention policies, activities, and protocols used in the community to evidence-based and national recommendations; synthesize information from the previous objectives to make recommendations on youth-suicide prevention strategies that can be used at the school, city and county level.

The study, though initiated by the Palo Alto school district, covers all of Santa Clara County.

Representatives from the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) were in Palo Alto for several days in mid-February to conduct field work for the study. They met with approximately 150 people over the course of 10 meetings, Gloner said, including school district leadership, faculty, staff and school board members; City of Palo Alto staff; Caltrain representatives; youth-related community organizations and partners; county representatives, including from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and the coroner's office.

They also reviewed existing data and media coverage of the local suicide clusters, according to Project Safety Net.

The survey gauges respondents' perceptions, attitudes and beliefs about youth suicide, mental health and the community's response to recent suicide clusters.

One section asks respondents if they agree or disagree with statements like, "I am comfortable talking about suicide with my family and friends" and "Youth suicide is a current problem in Palo Alto." Another section asks respondents to rate their perception of the impact certain risk factors have on youth suicide in Palo Alto, from depression, sleep deprivation and academic distress and pressure to lack of access to mental-health care or unsafe media reporting. There are also open-ended questions and a space to provide additional comments.

Project Safety Net said it will share the anonymous results of its survey with all partners involved in the Epi-Aid process.

Gloner said that the CDC team has started reviewing its field work and will issue preliminary findings in mid-June. A more in-depth full report won't come until the fall or end of the year, she said.

The CDC conducted a similar Epi-Aid investigation in 2014 in Fairfax County, Virginia, following a youth suicide cluster. Investigators produced a 200-plus page final report after visiting Fairfax, conducting interviews and focus groups, examining health and school data, reviewing news articles related to youth suicide in the area, and meeting with community partners.

The survey is available online through Friday, June 24, in English, Spanish and Mandarin at bit.ly/psn2016paloalto. The survey is also posted on Project Safety Net's website. The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete. It is open to anyone 13 and older who lives in Palo Alto.

Questions about the survey can be sent to PSNPaloAlto@gmail.com.

Noting that "youth suicide can be a sensitive and difficult topic to discuss," the survey includes the Santa Clara County Suicide and Crisis hotline as a resource: 1-855-278-4204.

Links below provide more resources where one can receive help:

Resources: How to help those in crisis

Guest opinion: How to help those in crisis

Q&A about mental health: Local experts offer their advice, guidance

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Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 6, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Monday afternoon, June 6

Dear Fellow PAOnliners,

This is good news.

Ms. Gloner and Project Safety Net have moved to fill a gaping hole in the CDC's inquiry. This survey is likely to provide worthwhile information. Three cheers!

But, with the CDC's initial report due out this month (it's undergoing clearances, according to the county office of public health), and PSN survey responses welcome until June 24th, it seems unlikely that the report will have the benefit of this highly useful survey.

This will be another limitation on a study that's already very limited--and whose focus has been misunderstood, due to incomplete news and publicity. Even in national publications such as Newsweek and the Washington Post, and on CNN and ABC News Nightline, in-depth information on the CDC study has largely gone missing.

Everywhere, people have gained misimpressions about what the CDC study actually is and actually isn't.

In reporting this, I feel no happiness. As one of Palo Alto's hundreds of "first responders," on the scene in the classroom, I've been with many of our teenagers in some of the hours of their sharpest grief, and have looked high and low for insight into our high-schoolers' problems, for encouraging news, even for outside help. So I'm loath to dash in others the very hopes I've sought myself.

But the brave "bugle call" for the CDC's study--as if a contingent of the U.S. Cavalry were riding to our rescue--has raised unwarranted hopes.

The CDC's mission at its core, as stated by the county office, is focused on “the use and analysis of existing quantitative datasets”: vital statistics, emergency department and hospital data, school survey data, rates of alcohol and drug use.

They’re not delving into cause-and-effect; they’re lining up correlations (e.g., do we have high rates of substance abuse to go with the high mortality rate?). As the Weekly's article attests, they weren’t here to reconnoiter new, “primary” sources; they were assembling already-existing, “secondary” sources.

Disconcertingly, they're seeking no first-hand knowledge of Palo Alto’s teenagers. The study will include no substantive interviews with the District’s 4000 high-schoolers. This is a great loss, when it comes to a problem that has brought Palo Alto so much sorrow. And interviews are much more revealing than surveys--because more personal, full of feeling, and less limited by the questions.

Nor will the CDC be drawing upon other school sources--not administrators or counselors or coaches, nor the new therapists our School Board recently hired at some expense, nor even the 200 classroom professionals who spend more weekday hours with teenagers than any other grown-ups and who are privy to their journals and artwork, their embarrassments over homework tardy due to parental separations or social-media humiliations, their confidential tears before and after class.

And finally, sadly: the CDC isn’t seeking out the friends and families, or studying the experiences and histories, of our ten (now eleven) departed children.

And what is the report likely to recommend? The same reassuring-sounding but ineffectual measures--e.g., “community education,” “response protocols,” “coordination with local physicians”—that the CDC proposed in 2014 for northern Virginia, and which Palo Alto already developed and endorsed six years ago, following our first rash of losses, but which failed to prevent last year’s cluster.

The CDC recommended too, for Virginia, curricula to “promote positive attitudes,” build cognitive skills, teach students to help peers at risk. We already have this here in spades. Even though the titles of recent books on schooling and child-rearing are unanimously flashing red—“over-scheduled,” “overloaded,” “over-parented,” “over-tested--our District has added more to students’ lives: “social-emotional” curriculum, lessons on depression and mental health, wellness teams, workshops on stress reduction--all aimed at fixing our kids.

But we need to stop trying to fix our kids--and starting fixing our schools. Our teenagers aren't the problem; their environment is.

We should: a) shrink the largest class-sizes, so that kids don’t feel lost in the crowd (Palo Alto’s two high schools, fall semester, had 407 classes with 30 or more teenagers per room); b) restore sleep and home life and friendship time to students by, first, empowering them with a voice in their nightly homework minutes (via a confidential app that will crunch the numbers conveniently for teachers), and, second, requiring guidance counseling for any go-ahead for multiple APs (just some words of wisdom about how little difference they make to admissions, and how many wonderful colleges there are).

We should: c) roll back our kids’ all-day dependence on social media by requiring phones to be turned off, first bell to last (and my making campuses more companionable); d) curb the bombardment of grade-reports that obliterates much-needed time to heal from the setbacks of adolescence; e) end the misery-inducing, rampant cheating that occurs at rates of 75-80%.

Such changes will not come easily. The community coalition Save the 2,008-- made up of hundreds of parents, Stanford professors, PAMF doctors, faith leaders, engineers, venture capitalists—has long been advocating for such adjustments but has been rebuffed by our Superintendent and School Board. (With the exception of Mr. Dauber, who has called Save the 2,008 "a gift to the community.")

The bugle call of the CDC sounds bold and brave, and we deeply need hope, but it is leading us in the wrong direction. The incompleteness of their inquiry will prevent them from really riding to our rescue; our fate is much more in our own hands.

Still, the bugle summons will only distract us if we let it. If we set our hearts on what will truly bring hope to our high-schoolers, well, help is surely on the way.

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator, Save the 2,008
savethe2008.com (please visit and consider joining our alliance)


4 people like this
Posted by Carpe Diem
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 6, 2016 at 10:17 pm

Please recognize this survey for the opportunity it is - an opportunity to weigh in, to share not only in the CDC report but also to help shape Palo Alto's future efforts to prevent youth suicide.

ALL voices need to be represented and heard - but especially student voices. Please talk with your children, your neighbors, your networks and encourage everyone to participate in this short survey. Web Link

And when the counting is done - and the comments read and registered - please join the actual efforts that follow - actions to be shaped and informed by Palo Altans of all ages and cultures. As it should be.


2 people like this
Posted by Hua Zheng
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 7, 2016 at 2:56 pm

I have read your article. It is very meaningful. I will shared it with others.


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