Palo Alto High Schools Step Up Mental Health Efforts

Late last year, the Atlantic’s Hanna Rosin wrote a feature detailing “suicide clusters” at two Palo Alto High Schools. These brilliant students, though performing exceptionally in the classroom, suffered from poor attention to mental health. The wealthy and elite town nestled in Silicon Valley is home to a troubling teen suicide statistic, and at Palo Alto High in particular, 12% of students seriously contemplated suicide in the 2013-14 school year.

Her piece was widely shared, and saw almost 1000 comments that sparked debate on teenagers, mental health, and what we expect of students. Are we asking them to do too much? Is this a terrible consequence of the pursuit of perfection? The fact that these students are maturing in an environment that is also home to what so much of the world considers to be the finest, brightest, and most successful entrepreneurs cannot be easy either. It’s a ton of pressure.

School officials and administrators have begun to take actionable steps to address these problems. The biggest obstacle? Destigmatizing mental health treatment. A recent article from PRI’s The World shares some of the efforts that Palo Alto Unified School District has made to take better care of its students. The most prominent of these are wellness centers that have combined resources with medical services. At Palo Alto HIgh School, they share a building on campus. Now, going to the nurse’s office with an upset stomach will take you to the same place as a trained mental health professional.

The centers, which were modeled after similar wellness centers in Australia, have proven to be successful. In a seven-week period this fall, nearly a third of the district’s 3,800 students visit wellness centers a total of 4,200 times. And it’s not just kids these professionals are helping— they’re providing a valuable resource to parents by presenting them with conflict management strategies that help them better communicate with their teen.

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