“We Need to Really Get a Handle On This”: String of Student Suicides Prompt Palo Alto Schools to Hire More Counselors

The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education will allocate funds to hire more therapists, a decision prompted after seven students have taken their own lives this year.

Trustees on Tuesday voted to allocate $250,000 for mental health services, which will bring in a pair of full-time counselors to help students dealing with depression.

"We need to really get a handle on this," said Chandrama Anderson, a mother of a senior at Palo Alto High School.

Anderson said her son and his friends all feel pressure to succeed and be liked.

"I talk to him about it," Anderson said. "I ask him a lot of questions -- how he's doing, how he's feeling."

And that's exactly what mental health experts said parents should be doing. Dr. Philippe Rey with Adolescent Counseling Services, or ACS, said students often feel the same pressures as their parents, with many not having the tools to cope with the stress.

"The pressure to be better to succeed more, be innovated and so forth -- we all feel it," Rey said. "Our students are feeling it too."

The district said the new therapists will start as early as next month and will be added to the counseling staff at its high schools. The additions will bring the total number of counselors in the district to five.

"We just make sure that when they need to turn to someone, someone is there," Superintendent Max McGee said.

McGee noted there is a public health crisis at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.

"The best prevention strategy for depression, mental health issues is peer vigilance," McGee said. "So the students are supporting one another."

Contact Us