Archive for the 'Suicide' Category

Michael Phelps, Allison Schmitt talk about battling depression

Suicide Prevention on Facebook

Physician Suicide

Fourth Teen Suicide in Six Months at Gunn High in Palo Alto

Saw heartbreaking news today: the string of suicides at Gunn High in Palo Alto continues, with the latest this past Monday.  Local news reports on it here:

My previous blog post on this topic is here:

A forum was held at Gunn High last night to discuss what to do about this very concerning “cluster” of suicides.   Local news reports on the forum here:

I will be looking into how I can get involved to help in this crisis.  More on this later.   Please keep Gunn High, the students, and the victims’ parents, families, and friends in your prayers.

Three Recent Teen Suicides in Palo Alto, California

There were three completed teen suicides in four months (May, June, and August 2009), plus one suicide attempt (June 2009) that was thwarted, all by Gunn High School students in Palo Alto, California.

Completed suicides:

Thwarted attempted suicide:

Gunn High School has a child psychiatrist actively addressing the issue –  from

“I’m certain it’s not a coincidence,” said Dr. Shashank Joshi, an assistant professor and child psychiatrist at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital who is helping educators deal with the deaths. “There’s a pattern here, and it’s following what the signs tell us about suicides that are imitated.”

Joshi said more needed to be done to encourage youths with mental health issues to seek help, and to prompt parents, teachers and others to reach out to them.

At the same time, Joshi said, deaths by suicide can be contagious if sensationalized. He asked reporters not to dwell on details of Friday’s tragedy and for television stations to avoid filming live reports from the rail crossing.”

This interview highlights the two extremes of dealing with teen suicide:

1) Totally ignoring the issue and brushing it under the table, hoping against hope that the surviving teens don’t notice and don’t think about it.

Underlying this course of action lurks the age-old argument that talking about suicide and asking whether someone is suicidal actually may prompt them to commit suicide.  This myth has been dis-proven again and again by studies looking into the issue.  Asking someone whether they are suicidal does NOT cause them to either become suicidal or make it more likely that they will commit suicide.  Instead, it shows them that you understand that suicide is a very common thing for people to think about, that you take their suffering seriously, and that you care about them enough to ask about their personal safety.  This is the operating principle under which all psychiatrists operate.

2) Sensationalizing the suicides and spurring on a string of copy-cat suicides not only at the high school but in the entire region.

Tragedy sells newspapers (and television new shows).  Many think that the media sensationalizing the Columbine shootings spurred copy-cat shootings in schools across the world.  The same argument can be made for suicides – that sensationalizing suicides can spur copy-cat suicides from people seeking the attention after death that they did not receive in life.

The answer to this tricky situation lies in balancing these two competing interests – raising awareness and discussion of suicide, while at the same time not sensationalizing it and encouraging further suicides.  A very tough balancing act – I do not envy Dr. Joshi and Superintendent Skelly’s jobs.

A promising project by child psychiatrist Dan Tzuang, M.D., a APA/SAMHSA Minority Fellow (, seeks to address some of the school stresses that can lead to depression and suicide. Contact me if you would like more information on how to get involved with this project.

ADDENDUM 10/22/2009:

Fourth teen suicide in six months at Gunn High.  New blog post here: