Gunn High student killed on Caltrain tracks

October 20, 2009 6:12:10 PM PDT
The city of Palo Alto is moving quickly to stop more deaths on the Caltrain tracks after yet another student from Gunn High School was killed by a train near the location of three previous teen suicides. A 16-year-old male died Monday night south of the East Meadow Drive crossing.

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No one from Gunn High School or the school district wanted to comment on the latest tragedy, but both do support a public suicide prevention forum, which will take place in Palo Alto Wednesday night.

The suicide prevention signs are on every corner of the Palo Alto Caltrain intersection of Alma and East Meadow Drive, but for the fourth time in six months a Gunn High student ignored the message and used the tracks to commit suicide.

Gaona Mendioca, a mother of two Gunn high school students, is horrified it has happened yet again.

"I am very upset, I [passed by] this morning and I saw with my kids and said 'Oh no, this is not good, it doesn't look good, this is not good,'" says Mendioca.

Some mental health professionals say the cluster of suicides is an epidemic. Dr. Marina Bystritsky, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who also teaches part time at Stanford University School of Medicine.

"I think it's mostly underlying depression, not just copying someone's behavior, but of course having other examples gives them an idea of how easy it is to accomplish," says Dr. Bystritsky.

Even before the 16 year old killed himself last night, another community meeting was planned for Wednesday night. Various agencies say they must address the issue without sensationalizing it.

"Without adding drama and hype, we want to bring the stigma of suicide or the stigma of depression out of the closet, out of the shadows, and we want to talk about it as a community," says Palo Alto Police Agent Dan Ryan.

Dr. Bystritsky says fellow students can often identify peers having trouble before a parent or teacher.

"They sometimes cannot put a finger on exactly what is off, but very often notice it more than adults," says Dr. Bystritsky.

Wednesday's community discussion will not only include a panel of mental health professionals, but also a student panel of middle and high school students.

There are some common warning signs of adolescent suicide that concerned parents should watch for: lengthy depression, heavy drug or alcohol use, talking or writing about death, and searching for a suicide method.

Meetings taking place:
A meeting will be held Wednesday morning for mental health professionals and clergy at the SamTrans administration building in San Carlos. A 6:30 p.m. "resource fair" will be held at the Cubberly Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road, in Palo Alto. Counselors, hospital workers and psychologists will speak for about a half-hour, and the audience can ask questions for two hours. Both meetings were organized before Monday's suicide, in response to the other suicides and attempted suicides in the past year.

LINKS:
Palo Alto suicide intervention help

Bay Area suicide and crisis intervention

Gunn High School crisis resources

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