Dear PAUSD Community,
We hope that you and your family are having a thoroughly enjoyable summer. In the PAUSD District Office, we are enjoying a somewhat lighter workload than we have during the year, but there is still plenty of important business to handle. With that thought in mind, I think it is important for you to hear the latest news regarding some information that I recently received regarding the “Epi-Aid” investigation conducted earlier this year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
You may recall that a team of researchers from both organizations visited Palo Alto and Santa Clara County in February 2016 to conduct the field visit component of the “Epi-Aid” investigation of youth suicide in Santa Clara County. The purpose of this Epi-Aid is to understand the characteristics and trends of fatal and non-fatal suicidal behavior among youth in Santa Clara County including Palo Alto. As you know, this is an important topic that has deeply impacted our community. The researchers collected existing information and data and also met with local community organizations about existing suicide prevention programs and activities including our own PAUSD representatives and professionals—teachers, school counselors, school psychologists and mental health therapists, school and district administrators, Board members, and PTA parent representatives. The team has since dedicated the last several months to analyzing the data and preparing a brief update on preliminary findings. The final report, which will contain complete findings and recommendations, is not due to be completed until this fall. I am writing to you today to share that the preliminary findings were released this week. You can find the complete preliminary document, with a cover letter from Santa Clara County Health Officer and Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody, here on the Santa Clara County Public Health Department website.
As I read these preliminary findings, I could not help but to think about the young people that our community has lost. Though suicide is preventable, it is still among the top ten leading causes of death in the United States. Indeed, is the second leading cause of death among 10-24 years old youth. These findings show that almost all youth deaths by suicide had precipitating factors like a recent crises or a current mental health problem. Thus, this preliminary information is an important step in helping us understand and prevent youth suicides in our community and Santa Clara County as a whole.
These preliminary findings affirm our current efforts, validate available data, and offer important recommendations to help us persist in our work to address youth suicide. As a school district, we’ve taken numerous steps in all of our schools to support youth well-being including passing new Board policies to promote mental and physical health, hiring additional staff members who are experts in the field of mental health, and implementing programs and initiatives to support our families and students. We will continue to collaborate very closely with other organizations and professionals including the Santa Clara County Public Health Department (SCCPHD), the City of Palo Alto, Project Safety Net (PSN), mental health experts, and parent, student, and community groups to review the recommendations and consider future policies and programs to address the findings and recommendations.
We are appreciative to the CDC and SAMHSA for their thorough work and partnership to address this urgent health issue. We eagerly await the final report, which is scheduled to be released later this year. I will continue to keep you updated as I learn new information on this critical topic that has affected our community. In the meantime, I ask that you please visit the PSN website or the PAUSD Department of Student Services webpage on our website to learn more about the resources available for suicide prevention. As these initial findings show us, mental illness is one of the most highly stigmatized health conditions in the United States and many of those who experience a mental illness rarely seek help. The resources on both of these websites are available to help us learn more about mental health and offer valuable support services.
Thank you for taking time to read this important information. On a far brighter note, I look forward to seeing you in August as we welcome your children to another school year in PAUSD where we strive to provide them with high quality teaching and learning in a welcoming, safe, inclusive, and supportive environment.
Glenn W. “Max” McGee