Not again, I thought as I read the opening line of a recent Palo Alto Weekly op-ed: "As a community we are grieving." Reading further, my fears were confirmed: Now, additional teens have died by suicide in this California city.
A handful of years ago, I was a reporter for the Weekly. I was so grateful to cover city government, rather than schools — what a pressure cauldron, I thought at the time. As a teen, I too struggled with perfectionism, the drive to earn straight As and attend a top college, while excelling at extracurriculars. How awful to be surrounded by others like me, I thought.
Of course this is a one-dimensional glimpse at the problem. Suicides aren't explained by perfectionism or academic stress and they certainly aren't a Palo Alto-only problem. Shashank Joshi, MD, a child psychiatrist with Lucile Packard Children's Hospital; Palo Alto Medical Foundation physician Meg Durbin, MD; and Sami Harley, a mental-health specialist, discuss this and other issues in a piece written to offer guidance to the saddened community. "Suicide does not have a single 'cause.' Many factors and life circumstances must be taken into account," they write.
They go on to clarify misperceptions about depression, an underlying condition that can make suicide or suicidal thoughts more likely:
Depression isn't something you can or must just 'deal' with on your own... Though positive thinking can be an important part of having a healthy and resilient life, positive thinking by itself does not treat clinical depression. Talk therapy with antidepressant medications, if needed, are the only proven treatments for teen depression.
These local experts have held depression education and suicide-prevention training sessions with several thousand students at the two Palo Alto public high-schools since 2010. "Solutions must come from all those who interact with youth, including schools, parents and family, friends, medical and mental health providers, community and faith leaders and mentors," they conclude.
Previously: "Every life is touched by suicide:" Stanford psychiatrist on the importance of prevention, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital partners with high schools on student mental health programs and Volunteers watch train crossings to prevent suicides
Photo by jimmy brown