A year-long study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found a higher than normal youth suicide rates in three Santa Clara County cities.
The report found that the rate of teenage suicide in Palo Alto, Morgan Hill and Sunnyvale exceeds the rest of the county and state. It also said that nearly all the young people who died by suicide in Santa Clara County were struggling to cope with a recent crisis or a mental health issue.
In Palo Alto, Kathleen Blanchard was struck hard by the tragedy of teen suicide. Seven years ago, her only son JP took his own life.
“Like my son is not a number, he is not a death by suicide,” she said. “He was a boy who was loved, had friends, who might have been suffering from a mental health illness that was in need of some treatment.”
Blanchard, dressed in lime green — the color of mental health awareness, hopes the study will shine a light on the need for awareness and treatment, especially for young people.
“Seek to know, seek to understand and listen more,” Blanchard urged others.
The CDC report was requested by county officials in response to growing concern in Palo Alto where five Gunn High School students committed suicide in 2009 and 2010. The study involved examining the lives of young people and highlighting the complex issues surrounding suicide.
Now, health officials hope it will help to reduce the stigma associated with suicide.
“There are gaps,” confirmed Mary Gloner, the executive director of Project Safety Net. “How do we as a community address this?”
The Palo Alto organization was created to prevent teen suicides, and Gloner is hoping the CDC’s findings will shine a light on education efforts that are already in place in the community, and remind parents and teachers that suicide is preventable, with proper care and intervention.
“It’s a topic not to be afraid to talk about,” Gloner stressed.
For Blanchard, talking about JP can be painful, but she hopes the story of his life will help save others.
“There’s nothing that will bring my son back, but he was a sweet boy who always looked out for other people. He was kind, caring and compassionate. I see his spirit in this sort of work,” she said.
If you, or anyone you know is in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached online or by calling 1-800-273-8255.