The Washington Post reports that “Over the course of nine months in 2009 and 2010, six Palo Alto teenagers committed suicide. Between 2010 and 2014, an average of 20 children and young adults killed themselves annually in Santa Clara County, where Palo Alto is located.”
To put these grim statistics in context, “The deaths in the city constitute two recent “suicide clusters” (multiple suicides within a short time frame); there are an average of five in the entire country each year. Having two in the same city in less than a decade is extremely rare.” (Washington Post)
Several teenagers have committed suicide by stepping in front of trains, jumping off roofs or overpasses, or by hanging themselves.
Now the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is launching an epidemiological study on teen suicide in the area.”
Although the CDC usually investigates and studies disease, in this case, the suicides qualify as a near-epidemic. And just a bit over a year ago, in November 2014, they investigated another cluster of teen suicides, this time in Fairfax County, Virginia, another wealthy area.
A Search For Meaning?
Recently, in a non-fiction writing group, we read Borderlines by Caroline Kraus, the tale of author’s mother’s death and the destructive “friendship” she has with another woman.
What struck me about the book most of all, didn’t actually coalesce into a solid idea until I read the Palo Alto report this morning. For part of the book, the author describes living in a house with an international assortment of heavy-partying roommates while working in a bookstore. She and at least some of her friends, admittedly in their twenties, were living lives that at best seemed empty, at worst, self-destructive, and in her particular case, mutually destructive.
Did their lives echo the way many teens are being raised today? Pressure on success, fear of commitment, a kind of low-level wind farm-like thrum of discontent mingled with fear, anxiety, and lack of purpose?
The author had a loving, very dependable family to anchor her, despite the loss of her mother, but the teens in Palo Alto may have another story to tell.
Is this a general American cultural issue mixed with affluenza, which is defined as “a psychological malaise affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation?” Or is this a spiritual problem, too?
Whatever it is, it is heartbreaking. Each life is precious, each soul is unique, an entire world unto itself. I’m not sure any research team is going to be able to solve this easily.