A culture of pressure – Palo Alto youths demand change in school culture
The graduating class of 2015 at Henry M. Gunn High School, in Palo Alto, California went through a string of tragedies in the months leading up to their last days as children. Since the previous October, three current students and a recent graduate from Palo Alto high schools lost their lives to suicide. This example harks back to the relationship between high anxiety and suicidal ideation. According to data featured in the 2010 issue of Depression and Anxiety, 70 percent of surveyed participants with a life-long history of suicidal ideation reported having an anxiety disorder.
Statistics from the Centers of Disease Control gathered between 2003 and 2004 indicate a rise in teen suicide rates. As of 2006, suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers, behind homicides and accidents.
“We are resilient, courageous, and compassionate. We have gone through trials and tribulations that no high schoolers should ever have to go through, and yet we have come out of the battle stronger than before,” announced Allyna Mota Melville during her graduation ceremony, a recent graduate from Henry M. Gunn High School and great-grandchild of the school’s founder.
Allyna isn’t just referring to deaths in the past year. The 2009 and 2010 timeframe also saw at least five more youth suicides in the Palo Alto area.
Researchers Anne Freuchen and Berit Grøholt from the University of Oslo, Norway, looked at a large group of suicide notes and predicted ones written by youths would seem immature and malformed in nature. On the contrary, Freuchen and Grøholt read through 23 notes written by young people and found the writings coherent, well-understanding of the nature of suicide and taking responsibility for their actions.
Palo Alto suicide victim Cameron Lee’s suicide note indicated that he didn’t blame anyone but expressed feeling hopeless toward a personal future in the world. While students grieved, they felt the school administration didn’t provide adequate support and empathy toward the emotional plight of a lost peer.
In response Lee’s suicide, students launched a campaign called Save the 2,008, referring to the size of the student body at Henry M. Gunn. The movement worked to fight numerous issues such as excessive homework, large class sizes and lack of school and parental support during high-pressure events.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry encourages parents to listen carefully to teens for signs of overloading in school and life in general. Learn and exemplify stress management techniques so kids know how to maintain mental health. Pro-social activities can take the kid’s mind off hard work. There is more to life than school.
Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer