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Mountain View City Council makes mental health a priority after youth suicides

Student deaths could prompt better security at Caltrain crossings, health care funding

The Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to turn youth mental health into a top priority next year, following the deaths of two high school students by suicide since August 2018.

The move, prompted by Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, means the council will find ways to fit mental health care into a crowded list of citywide goals sometime in early 2020, and could lead to several major shifts in the way the city treats youth suicide prevention.

The initial hope is to improve cross-agency collaboration by following in the footsteps of Palo Alto's "Project Safety Net," including better safety measures at the Caltrain station and at-grade crossings in Mountain View. The transit agency has reported 16 fatalities on the tracks so far this year, including one at Castro Street.

Abe-Koga said at the Dec. 10 meeting that she wants to find ways the city could bolster its involvement in youth mental health after two Mountain View High School students died by suicide in less than two years. Eddie Keep died by suicide shortly before the start of the 2018-19 school year. In October, a second teen -- whose name was not publicly released according to his the family's wishes -- was struck by a Caltrain in Mountain View and later died of his injuries.

Keep's mother, Peggy Keep, told council members that more needs to be done to prevent suicides, including safety and security measures along the Caltrain tracks. Crossing guards or cameras may not be the perfect solution, but they could at least act as a deterrent, she said.

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"There's too much pressure -- there's all kinds of things that contribute to this," Keep said. "It is way too easy, at certain hours of the evening, to walk down Castro Street and just stand in front of a train."

The city adopted a policy in 2012 explicitly calling for strategies preventing suicide, but has taken a relatively hands-off approach to mental health up until now. Mountain View provides annual funding to the nonprofit Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) as part of a cross-agency agreement, but the city's contribution, a little over $100,000 each year, is a small slice of CHAC's $3.7 million budget.

Palo Alto launched Project Safety Net, a collaborative of more than 30 community organizations including the city, the school district and local nonprofits, following a similar spate of tragedies, and Mountain View could consider following suit, Abe-Koga said.

"I would like for us to have a deeper dive into this issue in this coming year," she said.

One component of suicide prevention, safety measures on the Caltrain tracks, has been explored, tested and altered over the last decade in neighboring Palo Alto after a cluster of youth suicides prompted city officials to take action. At first, it was volunteer "track watchers," followed by city-hired security personnel keeping watch at all hours.

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The approach changed again last year, when the city implemented a new thermal and infrared security camera system, complete with an "intrusion detection system" with algorithms designed to detect movement within 1,000 feet -- night or day. Abe-Koga said residents and school district constituents have both suggested Caltrain safety measures could help reduce access to means for suicide.

Councilwoman Alison Hicks said she believes youth mental health initiatives run by nonprofits like CHAC, local schools and El Camino Hospital are "very scattered," and that the city might have a role to play in coordinating services under one roof. She added that the big-time philanthropic giants in the area, like the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and Sobrato Family Foundation, focus heavily on physical health and education and may be neglecting an opportunity to help kids struggling with mental health conditions.

At the same time, she said, the city should set limits on its involvement.

"I'm not particularly interested in the city becoming a mental health provider," Hicks said. "I'm interested in hearing more from the community and then improving what these various organizations do, or possibly partnering with Project Safety Net."

National studies have found that about 1 in 5 children have a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder, but only about 20% of those children actually receive care from a mental health provider. The reasons for the gap are manifold, including a dearth of available psychiatrists and psychologists and challenges in finding affordable, in-network care. Anxiety and depression make up the large majority of mental health illnesses diagnosed in youth ages 13 to 18.

In response to inadequate mental health care, nonprofits and school districts are working to fill in the gaps. Mountain View-Los Altos High School District hires a team of a half-dozen therapists, and has a contract with CHAC to have mental health counselors on campus throughout the year.

Patients seeking an appointment at CHAC's Mountain View clinic can face long waiting lists to get services, and increasing the city's financial support to the nonprofit could put a dent in the problem, said Councilman John McAlister.

"I'm in total support of putting some money where our mouths are, and actually contributing to existing programs that will help solve those problems," he said.

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Mountain View City Council makes mental health a priority after youth suicides

Student deaths could prompt better security at Caltrain crossings, health care funding

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Dec 12, 2019, 9:57 am

The Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to turn youth mental health into a top priority next year, following the deaths of two high school students by suicide since August 2018.

The move, prompted by Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, means the council will find ways to fit mental health care into a crowded list of citywide goals sometime in early 2020, and could lead to several major shifts in the way the city treats youth suicide prevention.

The initial hope is to improve cross-agency collaboration by following in the footsteps of Palo Alto's "Project Safety Net," including better safety measures at the Caltrain station and at-grade crossings in Mountain View. The transit agency has reported 16 fatalities on the tracks so far this year, including one at Castro Street.

Abe-Koga said at the Dec. 10 meeting that she wants to find ways the city could bolster its involvement in youth mental health after two Mountain View High School students died by suicide in less than two years. Eddie Keep died by suicide shortly before the start of the 2018-19 school year. In October, a second teen -- whose name was not publicly released according to his the family's wishes -- was struck by a Caltrain in Mountain View and later died of his injuries.

Keep's mother, Peggy Keep, told council members that more needs to be done to prevent suicides, including safety and security measures along the Caltrain tracks. Crossing guards or cameras may not be the perfect solution, but they could at least act as a deterrent, she said.

"There's too much pressure -- there's all kinds of things that contribute to this," Keep said. "It is way too easy, at certain hours of the evening, to walk down Castro Street and just stand in front of a train."

The city adopted a policy in 2012 explicitly calling for strategies preventing suicide, but has taken a relatively hands-off approach to mental health up until now. Mountain View provides annual funding to the nonprofit Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) as part of a cross-agency agreement, but the city's contribution, a little over $100,000 each year, is a small slice of CHAC's $3.7 million budget.

Palo Alto launched Project Safety Net, a collaborative of more than 30 community organizations including the city, the school district and local nonprofits, following a similar spate of tragedies, and Mountain View could consider following suit, Abe-Koga said.

"I would like for us to have a deeper dive into this issue in this coming year," she said.

One component of suicide prevention, safety measures on the Caltrain tracks, has been explored, tested and altered over the last decade in neighboring Palo Alto after a cluster of youth suicides prompted city officials to take action. At first, it was volunteer "track watchers," followed by city-hired security personnel keeping watch at all hours.

The approach changed again last year, when the city implemented a new thermal and infrared security camera system, complete with an "intrusion detection system" with algorithms designed to detect movement within 1,000 feet -- night or day. Abe-Koga said residents and school district constituents have both suggested Caltrain safety measures could help reduce access to means for suicide.

Councilwoman Alison Hicks said she believes youth mental health initiatives run by nonprofits like CHAC, local schools and El Camino Hospital are "very scattered," and that the city might have a role to play in coordinating services under one roof. She added that the big-time philanthropic giants in the area, like the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and Sobrato Family Foundation, focus heavily on physical health and education and may be neglecting an opportunity to help kids struggling with mental health conditions.

At the same time, she said, the city should set limits on its involvement.

"I'm not particularly interested in the city becoming a mental health provider," Hicks said. "I'm interested in hearing more from the community and then improving what these various organizations do, or possibly partnering with Project Safety Net."

National studies have found that about 1 in 5 children have a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder, but only about 20% of those children actually receive care from a mental health provider. The reasons for the gap are manifold, including a dearth of available psychiatrists and psychologists and challenges in finding affordable, in-network care. Anxiety and depression make up the large majority of mental health illnesses diagnosed in youth ages 13 to 18.

In response to inadequate mental health care, nonprofits and school districts are working to fill in the gaps. Mountain View-Los Altos High School District hires a team of a half-dozen therapists, and has a contract with CHAC to have mental health counselors on campus throughout the year.

Patients seeking an appointment at CHAC's Mountain View clinic can face long waiting lists to get services, and increasing the city's financial support to the nonprofit could put a dent in the problem, said Councilman John McAlister.

"I'm in total support of putting some money where our mouths are, and actually contributing to existing programs that will help solve those problems," he said.

Comments

Sarah1000
another community
on Dec 12, 2019 at 11:03 am
Sarah1000, another community
on Dec 12, 2019 at 11:03 am

Placing guards or monitoring on the tracks only eliminates one method of suicide. It does not help treat mental health issues. Suicidal youth need inpatient treatment. Neither The Children’s Hospital at Stanford nor our County’s hospital offer a single bed to treat youth who are suicidal. How many children have to die?


Jon
Cuesta Park
on Dec 12, 2019 at 6:38 pm
Jon, Cuesta Park
on Dec 12, 2019 at 6:38 pm

Agree with above poster. We need to work on the root cause.


Bryan McSweeney
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2019 at 8:51 pm
Bryan McSweeney, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2019 at 8:51 pm

Whether the city government gets involved or not is one matter, but we cannot escape the fact that the root cause is related to the total imbalance in how we view education on the Peninsula. The extreme emphasis on grades, tests, and academic advancement for its own sake have run out of control. The pressure put on this generation to measure success by these metrics is unhelpful and unethical.

We need to help equip schools with tools on how to train students to become balanced, whole people, with higher and now meaningful goals than simply scoring well on the SAT. That there are higher experiences and purposes to life than simply going to the "best" college and getting the "best" job.

Even Google studied it's own workforce and found that the most important quality inn their employees was not academic success, or IQ, but emotional intelligence.

Life is so much more than a narrow definition of intelligence, and there's no better time to start training our children to realize their own potential than now.

It's time to make a real change.


neighbor
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Dec 12, 2019 at 9:13 pm
neighbor, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Dec 12, 2019 at 9:13 pm

"I'm not particularly interested in the city becoming a mental health provider" said Hicks.

However Hicks is interested in MV becoming an RV housing and safe parking provider.

All of these issues are stepping in to the realm of social services. Where do we draw the line as a city? It has to stop somewhere we can't do it all. And before someone accuses me of being heartless, please know that I have a teen who is suffering from mental health issues. Never did I think it is the city's job to assist me with this issue.

The city council needs to reset their boundaries and priorities around 3 priorities and make policy decisions based on that. It seems they try to legislate every issue that comes up, whether it is national, regional, local or even global (gas ban).

I just don't get it. What are the priorities for this council?


@neighbor
Monta Loma
on Dec 12, 2019 at 10:06 pm
@neighbor, Monta Loma
on Dec 12, 2019 at 10:06 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Mountain view resident
Jackson Park
on Dec 13, 2019 at 1:35 am
Mountain view resident, Jackson Park
on Dec 13, 2019 at 1:35 am

Silicon Valley is full of wealthy liberals who virtue signal about being inclusive but this is fake, fake, fake! They don't really care.


Marc
Old Mountain View
on Dec 13, 2019 at 4:35 am
Marc, Old Mountain View
on Dec 13, 2019 at 4:35 am

Let's do the best we can to educate our youth on mental health and us on recognizing potential issues. (Not everybody agrees but) maybe it's wouldn't be the worst thing if our local govt spared a small portion towards suicide prevention/ mental health resources/awareness


Steven A.
Cuesta Park
on Dec 13, 2019 at 4:48 am
Steven A., Cuesta Park
on Dec 13, 2019 at 4:48 am

Some people feel this is not their problem to deal with. But it is. I went to Palo Alto schools in the 1970s. Nobody ever stepped in front of a train then. And we had grades of course - it wasn't any easier than today. This is a community issue that we should not ignore.


Michelle
Monta Loma
on Dec 13, 2019 at 6:13 pm
Michelle , Monta Loma
on Dec 13, 2019 at 6:13 pm

I welcome the city finaly acting and addressing the suicides. I understand suicide is a behavior coupled with a context. We may not know the context but perhaps we can take away the components that leads to an attempt. The experts say that suicide is not simply the act of a depressed person at a moment of vulnerability. It’s a depressed person at a particular moment combined with a readily available lethal means. Teens in our area don’t always have a gun or a large stash of pills, but the Caltrain, a method highly lethal, is easily at their disposal any time of day! We install car alarm and driveways, and front porch lights to reduce the opportunity for criminals to commit a crime. So why not put in place preventive measures to block access to the tracks? The last thing a desperate person on an emotional low or an angry teen on an emotional roller coaster needs is access to a lethal weapon. The saving lives and keeping our community safe should be a top priority. I feel the stigma and collective shame that families and the communities feel hinders their effort to push and demand immediate action. I believe the silence on the part of media, lack of effort by the cities and Caltrain officials is a deliberate tactic to avoid liability. I am glad mountain view is finally is addressing the suicides. I just don't think the root cause is something the city needs to be looking in to at this time. Just remove the means, then look in to the root cause.


Teacher
Gemello
on Dec 13, 2019 at 9:05 pm
Teacher, Gemello
on Dec 13, 2019 at 9:05 pm

There is a rumor that MVHS is going to have "Challenge Day" for all their students. I think this would be a FABULOUS thing for them and our community. They do such a great job building compassion and inclusion. They had a small group at the school do it last year. But with the recent suicide, having the entire school go through the program is definitely the right thing to do. Thank you, school administrators, for approving this. The students and their parents will appreciate what you have done.


Challenge Day is Wonderful!
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2019 at 9:46 pm
Challenge Day is Wonderful!, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2019 at 9:46 pm

Challenge Day is an amazing program, expansion to all students (and middle schoolers) would greatly help all students. Treating social emotional learning as equal to any core subject would be transformative.


Look north
Old Mountain View
on Dec 13, 2019 at 10:07 pm
Look north, Old Mountain View
on Dec 13, 2019 at 10:07 pm

The City of Palo Alto just celebrated the 10th anniversary of Project Safety Net, a community initiative focused on prevention of youth suicides. TEN YEARS! Hope Mountain View will not reinvent the wheel and will look north for guidance on next steps.


Sarah1000
Registered user
another community
on Dec 14, 2019 at 7:57 pm
Sarah1000, another community
Registered user
on Dec 14, 2019 at 7:57 pm

Look North- Unfortunately, Project Safety Net has not been successful at eliminating youth suicide in Palo Alto. In fact, there have been several youth who have died by suicide in the past ten years. Youth who are having a mental health crisis need immediate psychiatric care. As a parent whose teenager reported having a suicide plan during a major depressive episode, our family experienced the inadequacy of treatment options in our county. None of the hospitals with emergency rooms in Santa Clara County including Stanford’s Children’s Hospital will admit a youth for inpatient treatment. None. The closest hospital to Mountain View and Palo Alto offering such care is the Adolescent Psychiatric Unit at Mills Pennisula in San Mateo. If your child is not yet a teen, your family will most often be sent from a Santa Clara County ER to Sacramento. No community initiative focused on means restriction can replace necessary medical intervention.


Steven Nelson
Cuesta Park
on Dec 17, 2019 at 10:02 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
on Dec 17, 2019 at 10:02 am

Please consider an end-of-year DONATION of $$ or some of your CAPITAL-GAINED STOCK to CHAC - a local community mental health organization. It already does such counseling with children/youth/families.

CHAC (Community Health Awareness Council) is a quasi-government Joint Powers Authority. The City and all three school districts serving Mountain View public students are official members of CHAC!

their address (drop in envelope or mail donations) 590 W. El Camino Real
web link Web Link


Councilwoman Abe-Koga/ good call! Now, as a legislator: just to start get an Agenda Item to increase the CHAC city contribution by 10%-25% in $$ and 'earmark' it for "MV youth suicide prevention." Easy peasy!
[BTY the City via Shoreline Community tax diversion district still takes millions per year out of the revenue of the MVWSD and MVLA. So Shoreline could join the CHAC JPA and come up with $25,000 to do this to 'preserve the future of tech workers growing up and being educated locally.' A will? A way! (and all legal within the confines of the wording of the Shoreline 1969 formation special statute)

YEAH McAlister! "putting some money where our mouths are." Another Berkeley alum who believes in the power of local government to fulfill the national 1789 promise of "promote the general Welfare."


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