It’s an absurd sight to see a man guarding railroad tracks.
The first time I drove past this man I assumed he was a surveyor. I questioned my original assumption the second time I noticed him.
Is that man guarding railroad tracks?
Why on earth would someone be guarding railroad tracks? The thought drifted from my mind; I had more pressing issues that day than why a man in a green reflective vest was sitting on a stool next to railroad tracks.
A few days later I noticed another man guarding the same railroad tracks a few blocks down at another street crossing. At this point, I began taking notice to the fact that there is someone guarding every intersection of the railroad tracks and a street in Palo Alto, California.
Then someone told me.
The men are stationed at the railroad tracks to prevent suicides.
The Pressure That Comes With Growing Up In A High Achieving Community
Palo Alto, California – the site of this absurd scene – is one of the wealthiest suburbs in the United States of America. Its wealth is only surpassed by it’s prestige as ground zero for the technology boom.
Google, Apple, and Facebook were all founded in Palo Alto and remain in Palo Alto today. It’s the home of famed technology trailblazers such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Nearly every piece of technology you use was developed in or around Palo Alto. Your computer, cell phone, television, Nest thermostat, Facebook, Twitter, and Gopro were all designed in or near Palo Alto, California. Palo Alto and it’s surrounding cities are known throughout the world as “Silicon Valley” because the brains of a computer, the computer chip, is made out of silicon.
But why does Palo Alto station suicide prevention guards at railroad crossings?
The Pressure On Palo Alto Youth Is Enormous
Within the outrageous wealth and prestige of Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto lies a community of over-achievers. The status quo in Palo Alto is to be a founder of a million dollar or billion dollar technology company.
For students of Palo Alto High School, the status quo is being accepted into the prestigious local college, Stanford University. And, if you can’t get into Stanford, you should certainly be accepted into an equally prestigious ivy league college somewhere else in the country. All of this, of course, is to prepare you to start the next big technology company.
Many young people in Palo Alto can’t handle that pressure. What 17 year old could?
The man guarding the tracks is Palo Alto’s response to a series of “suicide clusters” that are occurring among High School students in the area. A suicide cluster is a phenomenon where the suicide of one person in a community prompts a series of suicides all within a short time frame.
Last year 5 students from Palo Alto High School have committed suicide. And last years suicide cluster is only one in a series of suicide clusters that have affected the community. In fact, 12% of Palo Alto High School students have reported seriously considering suicide in the last year (2013-2014 study).
The suicide clusters in Palo Alto are so unusual that the Center For Disease Control has initiated an epidemiological study (definition here) of the phenomenon.
Depression is an innate human condition and it’s the leading cause of suicides in America. Unfortunately, depression a human condition that is heavily influenced by our environment. Sometimes we can get so emotionally involved in work or school that it becomes hard to appreciate positive influences that make life special like family, nature, or your dog “Rex”.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-TALK (8255)
Live Intentionally. Live Purposefully.