Town Square

Post a New Topic

Task force on teens seeks to be 'methodical'

Original post made on Sep 4, 2009

A roomful of self-described Type-A personalities met at Palo Alto City Hall on Thursday to develop a comprehensive program to address teen mental illness.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, September 4, 2009, 9:52 AM

Comments (27)

Posted by Outraged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 11:10 am

"On Sept. 25, district psychologists, counselors, and behaviorists will train school-district staff on how to identify mental health issues among students. That training will continue during the year, he said Thursday."

" District staff training district staff?" the task force has just begun but PAUSD already has all the answers? oh please!

1. Parents need to be fully informed on what this training is about - however well intentioned, there is no reason to trust the district with mental health anymore than there was on the recent process selecting a Math textbook.

2. It needs to be in writing - exactly what the boundaries and procedures are. I would not expect or accept a teachers or any district staffs' diagnosis (unless certified to do so) of ANY health disorder.

3. Parents and students have a right to TRANSPARENCY.

Posted by Outraged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 11:16 am

Why can't PAUSD be as methodical as the task force?!

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 11:38 am

I am delighted that this meeting took place. I do have several observations to make which I hope will be received in such a way that we can provide some constructive solutitons in the form of actions as soon as possible (not next month or in the winter).

I attended the panel discussion with the faith based groups at Cubberley High School earlier in the week. I noticed that there was no discussion during that meeting about what the faith based communities could do to help our teens who may be self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs (including prescription painkillers found in many medicine cabinets). I commented on this after the story about that panel discussion ws published and was met with either no interest or a very clear understanding of the problem (AAmazed......see the story from earlier this week in the Town Square section)). Teens (and their parents) are using addictive substances and behaviors to change the way they feel often thought of as pain. Today's Daily News (local paper) has an article on Page A7 entitled "The Dark Side of the Internet" the first sentence of which is "Ben Alexander spent nearly every waking minute playing the video game "World of Warcraft" As a reult, he flunked out of the University of Iowa." The signs of addiction eerily parallel the signs for other addictions like the addiction to alcohol or other drugs. I know kids that can't have a meal with their family without having the umbilical chord of their hand on a digital device under the table. Some of this is just harmless fun but when I hear about how pressured today's teens are to perform I wonder if they are "single tasking" and working at maximum efficiency or are they doing the typical multi-tasking thing that is so prevalent in these techie times. I have a friend who teaches at a college in San Jose and she tells her students on the first day of class that if they are caught with their attention on one of those devices rather than on her they must leave the class. The point is, people are self-medicating with addictive behaviors. When it comes to depression it is hard to tell sometimes what comes first.....the chicken or the egg. When you are pouring an addictive substance like alcohol down your gullet you may be an alcoholic who is drinking because you have a disease or you just may be depressed and think that alcohol may make you feel less depressed. Alcohol is a depressant so it is really counterproductive to drink when you are depressed (although some people may say that alcohol makes them feel euphoric). Teens who try to use alcohol as an antidepressant may eventually (if they are lucky) learn that they are simply masking other conditionssuch as depression which is treatable with proper therapy (which may or may not include prescription drugs). There are many professionals who are recognizing dual diagnosis (depression and addiction to a substance for instance) and can help anyone who may be caught in a spiral. The consensus arrived at the meeting to not to go jumping into specific actions or solutions NOW seems to be counter to the evidence that many teens need options to get help with their addictions. We need to stop blabbing back and forth and get into action. Our teens need help sooner than later. I noticed that there was an announcement earlier this week that the "Parent Project" which was supposed to meet this fall has been canceled due to lack of interest and they may try to do it again in the winter. At the next panel I think we need to hear from the kids about what they need rather than sit around like a bunch of talking heads that postpone action until they get to know each other. The time to act is now. No more teens need to fall through the cracks. Enough said.

Posted by Outraged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm


Acting now and doing it right do not have to be mutually exclusive.

And whatever is done now or later needs to be transparent.

Also, "district psychologists, counselors, and behaviorists" should be with students, not preparing to train, or training other staff, that alone gives pause to how PAUSD is approaching this.

But since they are at it, they need to make the training materials and content public.

The other thing that is crazy is that some teachers in the district could easily also be "identified" as having mental health issues, so we're supposed to trust them to identify a health issue in students?

There are rules about screening for anything, why is "identifying" mental health issues being done in such a lax, maybe totally inappropriate manner?

PAUSD needs to put their plan in writing and make it public before any "training' takes place.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Outraged: I totally agree with you on all points particularly on the one concerned with identifying teachers with mental health issues. This could easily be applied to teachers who are drinking or using. I could have identified a teacher at Paly who unfortunately had a severe addiction to alcohol when I attended that school many many years ago. He asked me to buy him the big bottles of Binaca when I would go to T and C for lunch. He would "chug" Binaca in the walk in closet at the back of the classroom during class. So, I don't know if you qualify alcoholism as a "mental" issue but that teacher could certainly have used some help and he would not have been capable of recognizing mental issues in Paly students. I am very keen to see what type of materials these professionals are developing and think that parents (or any resident) should have every right to review these materials.

Posted by Still a Concerned Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 12:48 pm

There is an excellent posting in the comments from the most recent article in the Weekly on the faith based forum article. AAmazed posted the following reference site along with some excellent commenting. I looked at this article and found it quite informative. I hope that the "professionals" read it too!

Depression can play a significant role in developing an addiction in adolescence,� agrees Adam C. Brooks, PhD., a research scientist at Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia. He notes that teens today have a different relationship with prescription drugs than did teens in the past. �They are more prone to see them as a utility and less likely to see them as something dangerous." Excerpt from this website:

Web Link

URL is :

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 4, 2009 at 2:38 pm

While I applaud the efforts of our community to address this issue, I feel a few things are missing:

Has anyone asked the kids what would help them?

While suicide victims usually have a mental illness - it is often a stress factor that is the "final straw" from breaking up with a girlfriend/boyfriend, feeling overwhelmed at school, too much work, getting into the right college, etc. We are addressing the ability to deal with stress but are we making any real effort to reduce it?

Sleep deprivation is a major contributor to depression and can cause mental illness. The level of work (often unnecessary busy work) we expect our student to do makes getting enough sleep extremely hard in high school. There are many things we could do that would not change our academic rigor but would allow our student more sleep.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Concerned Parent,

Religion and public schools aren't supposed to mix. Given the religious diversity in this area, I think that is entirely appropriate. No matter how well-meaning a religious group may be, you're crossing into an area of very personal choice.

I share a concern with palo alto mom--this sounds like a lot of top-down prescriptive actions. Where's the listening?

Posted by louise
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 4, 2009 at 3:41 pm

We all care. How does that caring best translate into reaching the teens who need it?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 4:10 pm

With all the posters mentioning how parents should listen to their kids, it might actually be helpful to give parents some tips on how to listen to their kids.

Listening to kids isn't something that is easy to do when they are teenagers, it should start much younger - like kindergarten.

Most kids will talk when they first get home from school, so a parent who is actually home has a better advantage in this respect. When they arrive home, ask questions that involve more than a yes or no answer and then let them do the talking while you get them their milk and cookies and then sit down at the table with them and have a snack yourself while they munch away. Don't let them take their food into their rooms or to the tv, video games, but spend 10 minutes in their company. Likewise at dinnertime, try and eat together as a family. Likewise, sit there ready to listen and chat rather than reading the newspaper or using your laptop. Whichever time is the first time you get together with your kids later in the day, make sure they know you are paying them attention.

If a child spends this first 10 minutes telling you about a problem in school, next day ask a followup question. It may surprise you that the story changed or the teacher who was terrible one day is great the next. This does not mean that there is inconsistency, just that your child's perspective changes depending on any one incident which is top of their mind at the time.

If an elementary child gets into the habit of talking to their parents, they tend to keep it up when they are teenagers. If on the other hand, they get the impression that parents are not listening to them as young children, they will not bother talking to them as teens because they have already got the message that their parents aren't interested in what they have to say.

Tell your kids what happened to you in an honest way too. Tell them about who you saw at the grocery store, or something funny that happened with the boss at work. Don't use vague words to them like running errands, or planning meetings, say you went to the post office, dry cleaners and then a boring pta meeting, or similar easily understood words about work. Even let them know about getting stuck in traffic, being late or other life problems that they can relate to. Let them see that your life is full of the ups and downs that is normal and that you are able to laugh it off even though it felt hard at the time. This way, they will be able to let you into the ups and downs of their lives too. Limit the "when I was young" statements as these can get really dated and do seem irrelevant and aged to a child or even a teenager.

If you start doing this with younger children it helps. But, the same sort of principles need to be adopted with teens. Food always helps to get tongues going so remember to listen when they are eating. Listen with your eyes, but don't make too much eye contact when they are telling you something difficult although of course some eye contact is necessary. But, at the same time, don't appear to be more interested in the mail, or the newspaper than you are in them.

If you do want to get a teen to talk, it might be an idea to take them out for icecream or fries and a soda, and then sit down together to eat in the store rather than get back in the car or get on with whatever you next have to do. The amount of time you are eating is fairly short and that often makes a big difference to a teen as they know that you will have to leave soon and talk time will be over then.

Get into the habit of listening now regardless of what age your kids are. Remember that listening is a doing word and not a vague idea of being available. If they know your are taking in what you hear when they want to tell you even if it is only mundane stuff, they will also know that you are listening when it is important stuff. Many teenagers won't talk to parents because they feel that their parents have never really listened to them (I was one of those). Many feel that their parents will criticise their behavior, their friends or what they did in a certain situation (me again). Listening means just that, listening and not passing judgment. Listening means that you are understanding what they are saying rather than just hearing their words. It may mean that you have to ask clarifying questions, but keep them short.

When you have heard something from them which they found hard to say, keep their confidences and don't pass it on round the family. Telling everyone else about something which you find amusing but was a big deal to your child is not going to help. If it is something you must say to your spouse, then do so in private. Honoring your child's privacy and openness with you is something you should cherish and treat with the same respect as with any adult.

Never give up. If you only have a successful conversation in one in ten attempts, look on that one success as worthwhile alone. It may give you insight you never imagined and the next one may take less time.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2009 at 4:49 pm


I don't think it's actually that hard to spot depression--it's just not blatantly obvious. The idea that kids are sneaking around masking it just doesn't jibe with my own experience. Not being open about it and pretending things are okay--yes, that definitely happens. But no signs?


I agree a lot with what you say, but you can be a working parent who gets home later and still be a listener. I agree a lot of it starts early--in part, you're teacching kids to talk about themselves to recognize and describe their feelings. I agree, too, with what you say about being honest about your own experiences as well--how we deal with problems is how our children learn to deal with problems.

I think, too, that another issue, and it's a tricky one, is learning to listen without rushing to immediate judgment. That's a real challenge.

Posted by Transparency please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Ohlone Parent,

If religion and public school don't mix, than teachers identifying mental health issues in public school is not a good combination either. Medical issues mixed in with school should have limits. What if the teachers "identify" what they deem depression in your child, what will they tell you? how far will they go to help? Will it help or maybe hurt? Is it their job? Does it label a teen? WIl it go on their school record?

I understand the need to help, and work together to find solutions, but this top down approach, as you call it, is not well thought out. I would like to know what teens think about their teachers "identifying" mental health issues among them. I would not be able to look at a teacher the same way again if I knew they have some secret checklist of what constitutes mental health "issues."

At the minimum, the district needs to be transparent as to how the teachers are trained and what it all means.

Does any other district do this?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2009 at 7:57 pm


I may have explained myself poorly. Of course all parents have a good chance to listen with their kids when the family gets together regardless of whether the parents are working or not. It is just that it is a little easier for the parent who is home when the child comes home, or the parent who picks their child up from school. For any family, the first 15 minutes of the day when the parent and child are both home together is the best time to talk. I think that the first priority for a parent on getting home is to spend time with the kids before worrying about checking the mail, email or even getting dinner - although preparing dinner together is another good time to talk. The parent whose first priority on getting home is to do something other than talk with the children is sending a subliminal message that whatever the other thing is is more important than the child.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2009 at 8:38 pm


You're missing the point--there's a separation of church and state in this country. You really can't use public-school funds to promote religion.

There's a Constitutional issue here.

I've no problem with transparency. Keep in mind that our teachers are already on the look out for learning issues and in the early years, it may well be a preschool teacher who suggests having a child tested for autism and comment on social adjustment.


I understand and I agree. Late evening, I think, can also work well with older kids. But making a point of staying in touch--of being there.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 4, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Every medical expert says there is no purely medical cure for addictions, they all support AA etc ie religious solutions.
Medication is important for other form of despair, like suicide, and spiritual solutions have been shown to support these solutions.
It is a matter of science, what works, over what is PC.
Our kids lives are at risk so we should go with what works, medication and faith.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2009 at 9:18 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Not all suicides are alike or share the same cause. Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder, for example, have 20 percent suicide rate. They don't respond particularly well to drugs nor faith (they actually tend to swap religions around). They're very difficult to treat, but there are some kinds of behavior mod. talk therapies that can do some good.

Very different from the patient experiencing suicidal depression after the loss of a child. There faith and Prozac could do some real good.

Very different, yet again, from someone with bipolar illness. Talk and faith won't do it, but lithium can.

The use of any of these drugs must be supervised and the diagnosis must be accurate.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 5, 2009 at 9:15 am

This discussion just proves once again that the treatment of any mental illness, teen or otherwise, needs to be supervised by an MD.

A Medical Doctor is trained to make correct diagnosis, be it organic, psychiatric or a combination of the two.

The MD has the power of the prescription pad and the training on how to evaluate side effects, dosage etc.

Many mentally ill people self medicate with illicit drugs and or alcohol-- leading to addiction.
Where this is the case they require medically supervised withdrawal followed by spiritual help and self help groups-- it is the only thing that works and it is highly cost effective.

Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 5, 2009 at 9:57 am

In my mind, I have this image of a huge group of adults walking in circles. It makes me so mad that i'm not going to read online news anymore.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 5, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Student - you are right...

Again - Has anyone asked the kids what would help them? They may have suggestions that will surprise us.

Posted by An Elder
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 5, 2009 at 1:15 pm

I say Amen! to Resident who wrote the advice on really listening to your child and gave specific suggestions, especialy about not being judgemental. I am a 79 year old mother of two children who each have
three kids(five are now young adults) who have trusted their parents enough to confide in them. Nothing in a parent's life is more important than standing by a child regardless of what he or she does and that means getting help for a child in trouble.

Posted by Former Student
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Talk to your kids. Ask them what's going on. Student is totally right, adults can talk as much as they want in as many circles as they want, but nothing will happen until you actually reach out and help kids. Putting unnecessary pressure on kids doesn't help, nor does passing off underage drinking and prescription pill-popping as normal.

As someone who used to think about life-ending thoughts, the biggest thing you can do is talk to your kids. if you yourself can't talk to your kids, bring in professional help. The best advice person, aside from parents, is a successful, positive and motivational person that really takes time to listen to the problems of the student.

Talk the Talk, but don't expect any results until you walk the walk.

Be open to your children, and don't belittle them. Think "big me, big you" and how you can empower kids to believe in themselves.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2009 at 7:09 pm


Your post on listening to teens is the kind of thing we can all use, specifics and reminders. The hardest thing to do is to not judge, how do you do that? Just stay quiet and stare blankly as they say something that you really want to comment on? Aren't we all judging all the time anyway, even the teen?

Posted by neighbor
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 5, 2009 at 9:44 pm

I think there are hipaa laws about minors and mental health regarding privacy affecting children between the ages of 13 and 17 that the school district hasn't begun to think about, when they ask parents to inform the school about their childrens mental health issues.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2009 at 8:35 am


Being non judgmental is just that, listening is just that, keeping quiet when we have been told something is just that. We can ask a question "what do you think about that, is it alright" and listen and if you really want to tell them something ask yourself if it is judgmental or not. If they ask what you think, tell them, but in as few words as possible.

Sometimes, a teen tells you something in confidence because deep down they know that it is not right and by sharing the information it helps them cope with it. If they share it they are using that discusion to work things through. If you wait quietly they may come back to you at a later time and say more and even ask you your opinion - it is their way of working it out for themselves. If you jump in too quickly they may just defend themselves and not work it through and certainly not come back and talk about it again. As for next time, they probably won't try.

Look back to your teen years. You probably had some strange ideas and did some things which you now know weren't a good idea. But, it was probably having these ideas and doing these things that helped to mature you. Unless they are doing something illegal or pretty dangerous, let them make a few mistakes and then let them sort it out. Giving advice and help when asked for is good. Letting them know you had similar types of things to deal with when you were a teenager is also good, but making yourself sound like a teenage saint is not.

Perhaps any of the students reading this may also have some input on what being non-judgmental means.

Posted by High School Student
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 7, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Maybe if adults would stop trying to come up with their own "solutions" and actually ask the students for advice, then we would have figured this problem out...

Kids in Palo Alto are put under so much pressure because of all of the APs and honors classes that they sign up for. Parents are constantly hovering over their kids and are giving them less and less freedom. Although the breathalyzer policy seemed like a good idea at first, it caused way more problems in the end. I always hear about students who go to the dances on Estacsy, or others who don't even attend and instead party, in order to release the stress that they have had to endure from the school week.If teachers and coaches were more understanding and in some cases actually cared about their students, then we would not be having this problem.

Us teens are constantly trying to impress everyone around us in order for us to feel good about ourselves. But in the end, we cannot impress everyone...

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2009 at 10:46 pm

HS student,

you hit the nail on the head - the task to impress everyone is imposed on teens and it's not only teens, but adults spend all their time doing that too. We're all nuts, and we spend a lot of time overanalyzing everything. That old refrain of instilling the love of learning gets lost in elementary school.

Curing or preventing depression will be hard to do as a community, but the schools can do things like have great classes, great teachers, great new programs for teens, and that YOU will be asked what these programs should be.

Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 8, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Its not only stress and pressure. Its also a social thing. In high school, it's so easy to feel utterly alone. You can't tell when someone is lonely. The person could have a great group of friends, be in clubs, team sports, have a great family etc....and still feel lonely.

I think there are some benefits to having depression like you think really deeply about existence and it can help you lose weight. But that's beside the point. Just don't think pressure is the main cause of this stuff. Its never being truley understood and knowing no one ever truley will.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

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

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Worried about the cost of climate change? Here is some hope.
By Sherry Listgarten | 21 comments | 3,226 views

Two Hours - 75,000 Meals – Wanna Help?
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,585 views


Sign-up now for 5K Run/Walk, 10k Run, Half Marathon

The 39th annual Moonlight Run and Walk is Friday evening, September 29. Join us under the light of the full Harvest Moon on a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon. Complete your race in person or virtually. Proceeds from the race go to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, benefiting local nonprofits that serve families and children in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.