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Palo Alto Calls In CDC To Study Teen Suicide Clusters

PALO ALTO (CBS SF) -- Teen suicides have become such a serious problem in Palo Alto that the Centers For Disease Control is joining efforts to find solutions.

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department formally filed the request to invite the CDC.

For years, the Palo Alto Unified School District has been struggling to prevent teen suicide.

The superintendent described suicides as contagious, saying that one can spur a ripple effect.

There have been several so-called suicide clusters in recent years.

Last year, four students from Palo Alto High School took their own lives within a six month span. In 2009, four students from Gunn High School killed themselves, also within six months.

Palo Alto's suicide rate is up to five times the national average.

Paige Parsons took her daughter out of Gunn High School after two and a half years.

"It has a wonderful reputation for academic excellence," she said, "but there's so much tutoring behind the scenes, there's so much focus on nothing but academics that the kids have no other life."

The CDC team will try to identify risk factors, looking at everything from media coverage of the suicides to academic pressure.

They will also be working with local suicide prevention groups, Stanford University and will compare Palo Alto data with neighboring cities.

The CDC investigation should be done relatively quickly, with an executive summary in a few weeks and a full report within a few months.

Palo Alto provides year-round resources for teens, including Project Safety Net.


Over 36,000 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents in 2010, while nearly 5,000 more - nearly 38,400 - died by suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Here are some of the warning signs of suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7 or locally, go to or call (415) 781-0500.

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