The U.S. Center for Disease Control is reportedly investigating a suicide cluster in Palo Alto, California. The decision comes after local 4 teens reportedly died by suicide between October 2014 and March 2015.
Students and teens in the area expressed their shock and discomfort at the prevalence of suicides in their community. Shawna Chen, 18, described the atmosphere at her local high school following a string of suicides.
“It was a huge shock and there was a silent tension on campus on the following days. It was hard for people to wrap their heads around it,” Chen told ABC News.
The CDC is set to start investigations in Palo Alto into the “suicide contagion” that officials say poses a similar risk to an infectious disease. The CDC defines a “cluster suicide” as at least three suicides in close proximity.
“Suicide clusters” are notoriously seen in groups of teens, according to Columbia University psychiatry professor Madelyn Gould.
“Their relationships with other teens really start to play much more of a role than their relationships with their parents, and so they influence each other more. Between both the social influences and biological influences, it makes them much more vulnerable to being influenced by someone else’s suicide,” said Gould.
The Palo Alto community is taking steps to prevent future suicides by its young people. Palo Alto Unified School District in cooperation with the Santa Clara Health Department is launching efforts to prevent suicides like one-on-one counseling and stress management instruction.
Suicides in clusters of young people have been seen around the U.S. The CDC conducted research on youth suicides in Fairfax, Va. in November 2014, and found visible mental health problems in 72 percent of youth suicides, reports The Washington Post.
Gould emphasized the disturbingly widespread nature of youth suicide in the U.S.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘suicide town’. It crosses every socio-economic community from impoverished to wealthy, black to white, Native America. It really crosses all divides in the United States,” said Gould.
Gould said that she is optimistic about the comprehensive, committed efforts that Palo Alto has taken in preventing future suicides.