Silicon Valley is an area known for its entrepreneurial spirit and its affluent population of business and tech leaders. However, it’s lesser known that the area has one of the highest suicide rates among teenagers and young adults in the country.
In the city of Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, the adolescent suicide rate has spiked to five times the national average. According to the Washington Post, within the span of nine months from 2009 to 2010, six Palo Alto teenagers committed suicide. Between 2010 and 2014, an average of 20 children and young adults took their lives annually in Santa Clara County, where Palo Alto is located.
Those deaths in the city constitute as two recent suicide clusters, meaning there have been multiple suicides within a short time frame in an area. To put in perspective how rare the incident is, the entire country has an average of five suicide clusters each year. Palo Alto makes up two of those clusters.
Santa Clara County authorities have officially declared it an urgent public health problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which typically investigates infectious disease outbreaks, have launched an epidemiological study on teen suicide in the area. A team of suicide prevention specialists arrived in Santa Clara on Tuesday for a two-week site visit. The
Henry M. Gunn High School in Silicon Valley mourned the loss of one of its students in November 2014 after Cameron Lee stepped foot in front of a moving Caltrain.
Gunn High School is ranked among the top five schools in the country in science. An average of 20 students from the school are admitted to Stanford University each year and 74% of students at Gunn have at least one parent with a graduate degree. In Palo Alto, the median household income is $121,465, which is double California’s median.
So why are young adults taking their lives when their futures seem so bright?
A similar CDC investigation in Fairfax, Virginia, in November 2014 listed high expectations on students, parental pressure for success and parental denial of mental health issues as “multiple risk factors” for youth suicide rates.
In her essay “The Problem With Rich Kids” published in Psychology Today, Arizona State University psychologist Suniya Luthar writes:
“The evidence all points to one cause underlying the different disturbances documented: pressure for high-octane achievement. The children of affluent parents expect to excel at school and in multiple extracurriculars and also in their social lives… It plays out in crippling anxiety and depression, about anticipated or perceived achievement failures.”