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Volunteers watch train crossings to prevent suicides

During research for a story on preventing teen depression to come out in the spring edition of Stanford Medicine, I interviewed a mother of two young children who helped start TrackWatch, a volunteer group of mostly parents who are working to help prevent deaths at the Caltrain tracks in Palo Alto. She's looking for more volunteers to help watch the tracks where four Palo Alto teen suicides reportedly occurred between May and October of last year.

"It's quite possible we've saved a life," said Caroline Camhy, who was motivated to monitor the Palo Alto train crossings at East Meadow and Charleston following the deaths at the East Meadow one. A group of about 10 regular volunteers currently monitors the nearby Charleston crossing since the Palo Alto Police Department has since stepped in to help watch the other one.

"It was a simple idea," said Camhy, who can hear the Caltrain whistle from her home. "We come out to the tracks. We sit there. If we're out there, teens don't want to be. As time passes, at-risk teens stop thinking about the tracks."

Camhy refers to a San Jose Mercury News article by Lisa Krieger that reports on research which shows that reducing or delaying access to a spot where a cluster of suicides has occurred can deter death.

The challenge is finding enough volunteers to sit by the tracks.

"It doesn't have so much to do with providing evidence that it works," Camhy said. "It's just hard to find people willing to spend hours outside in the dark, being cold and uncomfortable waiting for nothing to happen. If it works well, then nothing happens. The at-risk person sees the volunteer and moves on. As volunteer experiences go, it is not exactly a fun one, but it does help save lives. If also helps the community to heal and move on."

For information on volunteering, e-mail hopepaloalto@gmail.com.

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