Caltrain deaths prompt push for suicide prevention awareness

In the wake of two Caltrain fatalities within 24 hours this week, public health organizations, school administrators and others are urging the public to be aware of the warning signs that can exist when a person is contemplating suicide.

On Tuesday, a 17-year-old Gunn High School student was struck and killed by a northbound train around 8:20 a.m. after he apparently walked around the lowered crossing arms and onto the tracks at the East Meadow Drive crossing in Palo Alto.

A day earlier, a 29-year-old Palo Alto woman was killed by a southbound train just north of the San Antonio station in Mountain View around 11:30 a.m.

Since Gunn High School administrators learned of the death Tuesday morning, they have been working to make sure students, parents and staff have resources they need, said Kevin Skelly, superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Additional counselors are available at Gunn, Skelly said, and teachers have been discussing the student's death with their classes.

Skelly and Gunn principal Noreen Likins have sent messages to parents and students listing various hotlines and mental health resources. These include contacts for suicide prevention, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, stress and other issues.

"It reminds us how important it is for us, collectively, to redouble our efforts to look out for our young people as they navigate their way into adulthood," Skelly said in his message.

While the messages from school officials indicate the teen's death may have been a suicide, Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said nothing is confirmed yet.

"It could have been inattention," she said. "We don't have the transit police report yet."

She said Monday, however, that the 29-year-old woman's death appeared to have been a suicide.

Various resources are available for Santa Clara County residents experiencing a crisis, including a 24-hour suicide hotline that offers counseling over the phone. Many of the volunteers who staff the line have coped with a loved one's suicide, said Gabby Olivarez, a senior mental health program specialist with the county and manager of the suicide prevention program.

The county also runs a suicide survivors' group where residents who have lost loved ones meet and support one another.

Olivarez said a basic mental health education can help parents and others recognize warning signs of suicidal behavior. Those include disengaging from friends, family and social networks, losing interest in activities, and talk of suicidal thoughts. However, other signs can be less clear, she said.

"Feeling depressed, lack of sleep, no energy, fatigue: Those are really signs of depression that can be linked to suicide," she said.

Teens who are still developing a sense of self-awareness often don't recognize they have a problem, she said.

"Younger people are very impulsive and more likely to do something and not think about it," she said.

However, Olivarez said that in her experience, "There is always some kind of sign."

The hotline, which can receive up to 100 calls a day, especially around the holidays, is taking many calls from people who have lost their jobs and are struggling with financial issues, she said.

The service is staffed 24 hours a day. Residents in the North County can call (650) 494-8420, and residents in the South County can call (408) 683-2482.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ApricotJo
a resident of Jackson Park
on May 8, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Try as we might, a person who is seriously considering suicide will often succeed, if not now, then later. As individuals, we need to have better insight to those around us and be able to spot any unusal behavior whether it be sadness or the other extreme. As far as that young lady who was killed, why didn't her "friends" step in when they noticed she was coming to work bruised?

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Well...
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2009 at 7:13 pm

It doesnt hurt to try though...

Otherwise you would have to live with knowing that you didnt even try to help them

 +   Like this comment
Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2009 at 9:13 am

USA is a registered user.

ApricotJo -- I am sure that her friends are distraught over the loss of their friend. There is no need to pile on.

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