CDC investigating Palo Alto's high teen-suicide rate for the next 2 weeks

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Starting Tuesday, a team of mental health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in Palo Alto to investigate the disturbing trend of teen suicides in the affluent town.

It's a problem that's plagued the town for some time and an issue a lot of people don't want to talk about. At Gunn High School, several students committed suicide back in 2009 and the problem has not gone away.

In Palo Alto, as the incoming trains roll in, signs that read "There is Help" and "No Trespassing" are up by the railroad tracks. There's fencing not to mention a security tent where a guard sits. All measures put in place after a number of teenagers committed suicide in the last seven years.

"One of the reasons that we invited the CDC to come and look at this [was] we wanted to look at it through a public health frame so just how we look at any health problem," said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. "

Dr. Cody said what prompted the invitation was a rash of suicide clusters. According to Project Safety Net, back in May 2009 to January 2010, five teens took their own lives. Then, in October 2014 to March 2015, four more young people killed themselves.
"The purpose of the CDC visit is to really help us look at patterns and trends in suicides across the county, particularly among youth besides, precipitating factors for suicides," said Dr. Cody.

For the next two weeks, members from the CDC will be meeting in private with the health department, the school district and community organizations like Project Safety Net. Executive Director Mary Gloner said their expertise will hopefully offer perspective.

"The way we look at it is this was a health issue that was prioritized by the people, the community of Palo Alto," said Gloner.

The team will evaluate suicide prevention programs, media coverage and factors that put teens at risk including academic pressure, similar to what they did last year in Fairfax, Virginia.

"When they learned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention went to Fairfax County to do a similar investigation because they too experienced a cluster of suicides they wanted to bring that here as well," said Gloner.

All of them are hoping to understand and more importantly find solutions as to why so many young people with bright futures in Palo Alto ended their lives too soon.

The team will provide a preliminary report to the county health department after their two-week visit.