Suicide survivors to speak on panel in Palo Alto Wednesday

CHC continues efforts to prevent youth suicide, decrease stigma around mental health

Three survivors of youth who have died by suicide and two young adult survivors of suicide attempts will share their personal experiences on a panel at Children's Health Council (CHC) in Palo Alto this Wednesday, Nov. 16.

The goal of the panel, said Ramsey Khasho, director of The Center at CHC, is "to break through the ceiling of stigma and shame, and actually speak with people who have lived experience with suicide.

"It's a night of sharing, learning from survivors and hope," he wrote in an email to the Weekly.

Khasho will moderate the panel, which is the first of two the speakers will participate in. The next panel will be in January.

The panel is the latest in a series of events put on by the CHC as part of its recently launched Teen Mental Health Initiative, which aims to prevent youth suicide and improve wellbeing through increasing services, education and community engagement. Other upcoming events include "The Teenage Brain and Parenting with a Growth Mindset" on Nov. 30, "Being a Teen in the Valley" on Jan. 4 and "Multicultural Perspectives on Raising Teens" on Feb. 1.

This week's panel event is free and will take place from 6:30-8 p.m. at CHC, 650 Clark Way, Palo Alto. To register, go to


Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal is urged to call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can also call 1-855-278-4204. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454.

People can also reach trained Crisis Text Line counselors by texting "HELLO" to 741741.

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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21 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 14, 2016 at 3:39 pm

Thanks to Elena, paloaltoonline and CHC for keeping the conversation going. Our community's mental health needs have increased since the election. It's wonderful that CHC is helping.

21 people like this
Posted by Good Heavens and Thank Heaven
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Hopefully, some of the parents scheduled to speak will cover the relentless academic pressures and lack of rest their children suffered from, as well as the signs of overload that these parents missed.

As a survivor myself, I do know that some parents never learn-- or accept any blame.

As they used to say, living in denial does not make you Cleopatra!

Toxic parents and toxic people in general must be cut out of your life if they refuse to even try to change! Sometimes, it's the only way to move forward and heal!

11 people like this
Posted by Gunn student 17!
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 14, 2016 at 10:36 pm

I admire the bravery!! Some of us are trying to do good educational work about these issues on campus. Thank u!!!

7 people like this
Posted by Midtown Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2016 at 6:10 pm

It has been good to see our community becoming more creative in an effort to prevent youth suicide. Gunn was recently painted in brighter colors and Paly printed their new ASB cards with a crisis hotline on the back. A Palo Alto parent also recently developed the free MindGuard App. It provides students with all of the necessary local and national crisis resource numbers in one place. It makes sense as my teen won't go anywhere without her phone.

2 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 16, 2016 at 11:22 am

Sarah1000 is a registered user.

Thanks Elena for adding the Spanish speaking crisis number. Many of our community's families are desperate with the talk of deportation and need help.

7 people like this
Posted by Meanies
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2016 at 2:26 pm

I hope that the issue of the role of the high pressure middle and high schools is addressed, and additionally the problem with kids being literally bullied to death.

Unrealistic expectations by wealthy parents and tiger parents certainly plays a role in teen suicides as well.

6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Paly has a committee to analyze the bell schedule. Let's hope they move the start time from 8:15 to 9:15. M-A starts at 9:30. It's well documented that teenagers' bodies are on a late schedule and going to sleep before Midnite is very difficult due to physiology. More sleep will definitely reduce stress for our students.

4 people like this
Posted by Kevin
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2016 at 2:50 pm

I was raised in a poor, agricultural town. We all worked much harder than anyone in Silicon Valley...every day. We went to school at 6:30AM to catch the bus. Then we got home at about 6:30 PM, then we helped cook dinner and do chores, then we did our homework. On the weekends, we went back to the fields to work. [Portion removed.]

Looks to me like suburban parents are chasing the wrong targets.

4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 16, 2016 at 11:42 pm

Going to sleep before Midnite is very difficult due to electricity.

1 person likes this
Posted by Local Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2016 at 7:31 am

I think these efforts are great. What worries me is that the district and broader community continue to pursue prevention based on opinions rather than to look at the data and use common sense. A few major ignored things that pop out are the well-researched negative impact of the current model of education on boys in high school, boredom as a factor, and the well-researched impact of the physical environment on physical and mental health. Somehow, despite the data on kids who died, people continue to studiously avoid these issues and dump all the blame on parents.

@Heavens and @Meanies
I am very sorry for your difficult personal experience, @Heavens, but you have extended your experience to the general population in a way that is not borne out by the facts locally. I hope you can see how hurtful it is to make a sweeping statement blaming parents for their children's deaths after a story about parents who have lost someone being willing to speak to the public to help others. The actual data show you are off base.

If you look at the CDCs preliminary report, there are several precipitating factors they identified of children who died countywide. Existing mental health problems and current depressed mood were major factors. Other circumstances identified included things like "intimate partner problem", "school problem" and "family relationship problem". Looking at the more detailed data, the report broke out the precipitating factors by school district. In Palo Alto, of the above three factors, only "school problem" was checked, but notably (relative to your post) not "family relationship problem". Furthermore, looking at the data countywide by gender, the "family relationship problem" is far higher among girls than boys, the "intimate partner problem" is evenly split, and the "school problem" factor seemed to be exclusively a problem for boys, not girls. In PAUSD, the suicides recently were skewed toward boys, and "family relationship problem" was not a factor listed at all, but "school problem" was a major factor and per the data seems exclusively a precipitating factor for the boys.

***I don't feel the changes at the school level have gone far enough to identify the potential gender-specific impacts. Anecdotally, it seems that all the recent research on what works best for boys in education is largely ignored.

Furthermore, the report goes on to list factors identified from (anonymous) surveyed students as causing mental distress in the 12 months prior, in four districts including PAUSD:
"In all four school districts examined, students that had mental distress in the 12 months prior to survey completion were significantly more likely than students that did not have mental distress to have: 

* Used alcohol at some point in their lifetime 

* Used illicit drugs (e.g., cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, or pain medication) in their lifetime 

* Engaged in binge drinking in the past 30 days 

* Self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (LGB) 

* Missed school in past 30 days because they did not get enough sleep, felt sad/hopeless/angry, 
had a physical illness, were behind in their schoolwork, or were bored/uninterested in school 

* Experienced bullying and victimization (physical, psychological, or cyber)

Family problems, tiger parents, even college admissions concerns, which loom big in commeneters' minds, are not listed at all. Objectively, as students enter the teen years, peer and school factors tend to dominate in teens' minds, the data seem to reflect this. A good relationship with an adult at school and better sense of connection with school can in fact be protective.

Bullying remains a seriously high factor, which is troubling given recent reports of ongoing breakdowns in processes that are supposed to help bullied students. Such breakdowns also cost connection and trust, a further piling on of risk to affected students. The district really must find it within itself to identify what interferes with fixing these processes and improving them, including replacing personnel who negatively influence the administrative culture or its proper pursuit of processes that help vulnerable students. There must be a fundamental restoration of trust or this will not get better.

Of the "missed school" factors identified, we seem only to have tried to address the sleep factor but nothing else.
*The most major factor identified was illness-related absenteeism, which can be sharply reduced by taking steps already recommended by state and national PTA resolutions, and promised in the facilities bond but not done. iAQ management is the buzzword, but it encompasses a holistic improvement and maintenance of school environmental factors that are known to affect student physical and mental health. Given how major this factor is and how easy it is to produce tangible improvement, district recalcitrance with this factor is inexcusable.

*Schoolwork is a troublingly high factor, given the community's call to limit homework and anecdotal reports that limiting the dominance of schoolwork in family and students' lives has largely failed. At the same time, boredom as a factor is also of concern, given the high percentage of PAUSD students who report being bored in school, and the district's cutting of GATE programs, general lack of knowledge about asynchronous learning (along with propensity for sorting based on developmental level while simultaneously ignoring redshirting and its impacts on male students relative to several of these factors such as bullying, school pressures, and boredom in the redshirted boys). If grading practices gave students more priority for learning over pure organizational skill, and flexibility to focus on learning, this problem could be solved, especially for boys. Students need agency, autonomy, and meaning in their work.

I think we should also, of course, listen to those who have been most affected. I am deeply grateful to these speakers for sharing their knowledge. We should be thanking them, not recycling what amount to nasty personal biases about and blaming parents and ignoring the facts. Personally, we found school practices here placed immense but unnecessary burdens on time and family life. I see too many people who are able to find the learning challenges outside of local school environments without the stress and other negative factors mentioned in the CDC report. We can get those benefits in our schools, but first the leadership and community have to be willing to do what it takes.

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