Fighting the Rise in Adolescent Suicides in the Bay Area
What you should know…
Look at this picture of the the Bay Area’s signature landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge. Now look closer. You should be able to spot the suicide nets underneath. While it is beautiful to look at, the Golden Gate Bridge is also known for its dark side: historically, it has been a place where countless people have attempted suicide.
When 18-year-old Kyle Gamboa, who, “to friends and family, had an obvious zest for life” (SF Chronicle), took his own life by jumping off of the bridge, the city finally agreed to add suicide nets underneath to prevent at least a number of the many suicide attempts that are carried out there each year.
Adolescent suicide hase become a huge issue all over the United States, rising at concerning rates. In 2010, the average suicide rate per 100,000 people (across all age groups) was 12.08, whereas in 2017, it was over 14. More specficially, in 2017, the suicide rate per 100,000 individuals between 15 – 24 years of age was 14.46 (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).
As someone who lives in the Bay Area, where adolescent suicide rates are alarmingly high, I’ve become concerned about this issue. Below, a graphic shows that Santa Clara County, one of nine Bay Area Counties, has an average adolescent suicide rate that is higher than the rate in the entire state of California. And that’s not uncommon. Most of the Bay Area counties have suicide rates higher than all of California.
While teen suicide is an issue at high schools throughout all Bay Area counties, two schools in particular stick out: Gunn High School and Palo Alto High School, both located in Palo Alto, a city in Santa Clara County. From 2009 to 2015, two suicide clusters occurred which took the lives of nine high-school students from both schools (Bay Area News Group). Unfortunately, the schools are both located near CalTrain, so it is tragically easy for students to throw themselves in front of oncoming trains as a means of taking their own lives, which many do.
Regarding the two high schools, extreme measures have been taken in the past few years to decrease the number of suicides among students. The thing that needs more exploration, however, is the pressures that are causing the absurd amount of suicides, and how we can safely and effectively intervene in order to help save lives.
Some information about the clusters & mental health among students at Gunn and Palo Alto High:
“The 10-year suicide rate for the two high schools is between four and five times the national average. Starting in the spring of 2009 and stretching over nine months, three Gunn students, one incoming freshman, and one recent graduate had put themselves in front of an oncoming Caltrain. Another recent graduate had hung himself…. Twelve percent of Palo Alto high-school students surveyed in the 2013–14 school year reported having seriously contemplated suicide in the past 12 months” (The Atlantic).
Check out The Edge of Success, a film about the Palo Alto suicide clusters, and how pressure, lack of intervention, and other factors can affect at-risk students:
Alternatively, check out the full Atlantic article regarding the clusters, which includes personal stories from a faculty member of Gunn High School: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/12/the-silicon-valley-suicides/413140/
My “For Now” Response:
For now, I have designed the “blueprints” for a forum called HelpHub, an online network that would provide adolescents struggling with suicidal ideations and tendencies with a community of their own. It would also allow parents and teachers, two types of adults who have a significant impact on the lives of adolescents, to create accounts to learn from professionals and online resources about the best way to help struggling teens.
There are three types of accounts: Teen, Parent, and Teacher. The account-type selected dictates the resources and chatrooms that the user has access to. For example, parent and teacher accounts have access to professional advice on teen suicide intervention and parent-teacher support rooms, but do not have access to teen-only chatrooms. Teen chatrooms exist mainly for the purpose of building community among those who are struggling with similar difficulties, but they also provide a space for those who are worried about their peers and may need advice from other teens on how to help.
On the network, there will be a list of resources, including but not limited to: Crisis Text Line, Suicide Prevention Lifeline, National Eating Disorder Association, National Domestic Abuse Hotline, and more. Every user has access to these resources. In addition, parents will have access to resources that teach them about having effective conversations regarding suicide and about when and how to safely intervene. One example of what would be linked for parents is a resource from the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide (SPTS), which discusses how to speak with your children about such difficult topics as losing friends, feeling depressed, and suicidal ideation. Teachers will have access to similar resources, but they will be tweaked so that they are geared more professionally.
SPTS Resource can be explored here: http://www.sptsusa.org/parents/talking-to-your-kid-about-suicide/
This plan still needs some final work, but, for now, that is what I have in mind.
Soliciting Help from the Community:
As of now, I have the plans for this forum, but I lack the technical skills to create it myself. I would like to recruit someone who is familiar with designing websites and/or social forums to help me design it.
My question is, what would be the best way to go about creating the forum? Would a social media group, such as Facebook, be good? My concern about that is a lack of anonymity. Would a Reddit forum (because it is anonymous) be a better choice? Or would the best choice be a completely new site altogether? (This is what I am leaning towards).
I would also like to ask the community this: what other features should be included in HelpHub? How could it provide the best support possible for its users, teens, parents, and teachers alike?
Thanks so much for your time! I would love to know your feedback.
Carroll, Jeremy, director. The Edge of Success. Vimeo, 17 Apr. 2020, vimeo.com/290304216.
Johnson, Lizzie. “How One Teen’s Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge Became a Cause for His Family.” San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Apr. 2019, www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Kyle-Gamboa-s-suicide-on-the-Golden-Gate-Bridge-13598699.php.
Rosin, Story by Hanna. “The Silicon Valley Suicides.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 Nov. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/12/the-silicon-valley-suicides/413140/.
“Suicide Statistics.” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 13 Apr. 2020, afsp.org/suicide-statistics/.
Swan, Rachel. “Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Barrier Construction Begins.” SFChronicle.com, San Francisco Chronicle, 4 Aug. 2018, www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Golden-Gate-Bridge-suicide-barrier-construction-13131352.php.
“Talking to Your Kid about Suicide.” SPTS, www.sptsusa.org/parents/talking-to-your-kid-about-suicide/.
Woolfolk, John. “Film Offers Remarkably Candid Look at Palo Alto Teen Suicides.” The Mercury News, The Mercury News, 10 Dec. 2018, www.mercurynews.com/2018/10/27/film-offers-remarkably-candid-look-at-palo-alto-teen-suicides/.