Responding to Teen Suicide Clusters
WASHINGTON— Lessons Learned Responding to a Suicide Cluster: Palo Alto School District (2010) has just been released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS) and the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center.
This installment of the Lessons Learned series recounts the events of what came to be known as a “suicide cluster” in the Palo Alto school district, in which five students took their own lives on a rail crossing over the course of late 2009 and early 2010. The publication documents the Palo Alto school district’s response to this series of traumatic events, as well as provides information to assist schools and communities on how to prepare for and prevent similar incidents.
Some of the district’s responses included:
- Identifying the victim’s connections and personal contacts to determine if they are at risk for experiencing grief-related issues. The district kept in touch with these at-risk individuals throughout the school year.
- Implementing an effective, comprehensive, community-based mental health plan for overall youth well-being.
- Working with the media so they don’t sensationalize the suicides
- Creating a database of individuals who might be at risk for committing suicide.
- Developing a “Track Watch” group, where parents, other members of the community and paid guards would station themselves at the railroad tracks
- Developing a student peer group to remove some of the stigma associated with mental illness