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Off Deadline: 'Contagious hope' is powerful antidote to 'suicide contagion'

Original post made on Jul 14, 2017

A three-person panel speaking in late June to a modest audience at Kepler's bookstore in Menlo Park presented some simple-sounding but challenging approaches to Palo Alto's nagging fear of being a "suicide contagion" capital.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, July 14, 2017, 12:00 AM

Comments (7)

11 people like this
Posted by R. Winslow
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 15, 2017 at 10:16 am

If this topic is primarily being focused on the teen suicides of late in PA, perhaps these tragedies can be directly attributed to certain parental pressures relentlessly forcing academic success and vocational directives upon their children. No child should grow up under those kinds of traumatic conditions. Advanced Placement is fine but let's not get carried away.

It doesn't take a psychologist to note that some kids can't handle the pressure and thus seek out ways to escape it. Having a well-rounded activity base is just as important as a sound education and kids should be entitled to both as outside fun provides a balance to books and classroom time IMHO.

A high-school adolescent is still a child in most respects. Creating a world within where they want to end it all is clearly and purely the fault of the parents. A happy and fulfilled C student is still better than a deceased one with an A+ average and countless letters of acceptance to prestigious universities.


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Posted by R.Winslow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 15, 2017 at 10:18 am

Correction: Crescent Park resident


2 people like this
Posted by A Cassandra
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2017 at 12:07 pm

The speakers make some excellent points, and I especially commend Roni Habbib for creating such an effective program.

What I have to say next is not a refutation of these kinds of efforts, which do make a difference, so please don't feel it in any way invalidates the positive messages. What I am about to bring up is more like the ice below the surface, the rest of the story. How people respond if a ship is in icy waters or hits an iceberg is desperately important to whether they survive, but equally important is to ensure that ships don't hit icebergs again or that they are constructed differently so they don't sink if they do. All are important.

Eight or nine years ago, I brought a concern to a school principle. My concern was that if the conditions of concern were not fixed, we could have a depression epidemic in our schools, maybe even suicides. Worse, if the underlying conditions were not corrected, subsequent soul searching and efforts by the community would help for awhile, but would not be enough forever and the despression and even suicides could happen again. Another concern is that is demoralizing, as people start to point fingers at each other, even though, without such underlying conditions, everything they did would otherwise be more permanently effective (or perhaps never necessary in the first place, at least to prevent the extreme outcome).

I am not claiming that as any kind of proof, however, the prediction of a major depression epidemic (worse at Gunn for specific reasons) and an echo suicide cluster, in addition to the community response are pretty specific. And yes, I have witnesses and some written documentation of the predictions.

Here's why I'm bringing this up.

Some of the conditions have been improved, in some ways, without intending it. But overall, because unless the district heeds the warning and starts to address these underlying issues, when the urgency dies down and all the many efforts wane, and conditions worsen again, it will happen again, even if the program and people fundamentally change in all the right ways. There will be even worse recriminations then, and still, the problems will resurge, depression and even possibly suicide. The mind and body are connected, and while it's important and effective to address from the mind perspective, depending on what is going on body-wise, the mind efforts may be less effective than otherwise. (And those who forward the mind approaches would sadly feel they were more, or less, effective based on incomplete information.)

Yes, I just predicted that regardless of what is done with the school program, parental education, etc, unless the underlying factors are addressed, there will be another depression epidemic and possibly more suicides. The time scale will depend on a number of factors, and depend on how well these mind-side efforts continue.

The tragedy here is that the conditions I am bringing up can be entirely fixed for justifiable reasons, with funding already available for those reasons, and with numerous evidence-based benefits beyond that purpose, including benefits to student performance, and student and staff health. I have done everything I could to try to help, really dedicated a few years of my life to it, and got some changes that probably helped some for awhile, but overall won't change the inevitability of future reoccurrence.

It is truly a shame, be ause it makes inevitable the ignoring of such an important message about positive cognitive contagion, or the belief that it isn't as effective as it really is, and the continued furthering of undeserved negativity toward the parent community here. More finger pointing, blame, and the problem not solved. I was sorry to make that prediction then, but did so because the outcome was so unacceptable. If anyone is listening now and willing to act, make your contact available, and your commit,ent clear, and I will make an effort again to give you the evidence and what can be done.


8 people like this
Posted by 16 Year-Old PA Student
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 15, 2017 at 6:32 pm

To kill yourself over something like grades is just plain dumb as well as sad.
Maybe it's a cultural thing? Most of my friends and I are 3.00+ and that's good enough as one's future success is not measured or determined by what you accomplished in high school.


7 people like this
Posted by A Cassandra
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2017 at 2:35 am

@16-year-old,
You have a great perspective about what's important. Young people have so many opportunities to make and remake their lives and futures, the traditional measures of "success" in high school are really not that important in the grand scheme of life, they really aren't. Sal Khan of Khan Academy has a great perspective on grades (his analogy about building houses) which is worth looking up as a template for change.

Unfortunately, depression and mental illness are more complicated than that. Someone who is clinically depressed isn't necessarily thinking rationally about stressors. It's so important to know how to help depressed friends or acquaintances to get effective help rather than suffering in silence.


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Posted by attendee
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 17, 2017 at 1:30 pm

I'm not sure why the audience size is described as "modest." I was there and saw a strong turnout--and an audience that stayed all the way through the conversation.


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Posted by fcservices
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Family & Children Services of Silicon Valley so appreciated the opportunity to be part of this event, which sparked a rich conversation among the panelists and among the audience members, by having information about our individual and family counseling services, LGBTQ youth programming, and domestic violence survivor services, as well as Caminar's residential and crisis services for people with severe mental health needs. Opportunities to engage around mental health topics is vital and chips away at the stigma that too often holds people back from seeking help.


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