Dangerous Expectations: Suicides On the Rise in Palo Alto School


Is the life of the elite really as rosy as it is played out to be? Perhaps the upper class life is not all warm and fuzzy, perhaps there is the underlying pressure on teens to follow in their parents foot steps, and to follow the social norm of “making good life choices.” According to the article “The Silicon Valley Suicides” in The Atlantic, Gunn high school has just recently suffered from another one of their “suicide clusters.”

Gunn, as well as Palo Alto high school, had been struggling with suicide rates.  In fact, the article states: “the 10 year suicide rate for the two high schools is between four and five time the national average.” Suniya Luthar, from Yale’s psychiatry department, discovered that the rich kids showed, “higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse on aver than poor kids, and much higher rates than the national norm.” Over the past years, Gunn high school in Palo Alto has had two waves of an enormous amount of teen suicides. Although Gunn high school is the home of well off kids, the suicide rates are well above national average. So what’s making the seemingly perfect teens rebel against life?

As kids, we often take in our surroundings, and learn from the people around us. We make a mental note on how we should act, and what types of things we should grow up to become. From a very young age, we learn right from wrong, and even how to push our parents’ buttons. As we grow older, research has shown that we become more aware of what our parents praise us about. In this way, we try to get more of that praise to make us feel better.

A majority of the Gunn high school are quite successful both financially and academically, and therefore base their praise off of academics and what they think will get their child on the path to success. However, what the parents think is the path to success is often not what the child wants, or how the child can actually reach happiness. All parents want their children to be happy, however, this may put undue pressure on their children.

This then causes teens to feel as though they must live up to their parents’ expectations, or all will be ruined. They take up clubs and classes which their parents talked to them about so they could please them, getting closer to the much awaited praise. Most kids feel as though they aren’t even doing what they want to anymore, as the pressure of their parents’ happiness and the built in “perfect” life they have in the back of their minds influences them constantly. Even though we know that there are many different paths to a successful and a happy life, the social norm in the families of the elite are long lines of high end universities and high paying jobs, therefore insinuating that in order to get praise, they must be admitted to an elite university.

Lack of exercise, lack of sleep, and too much time spent on electronic devices can lead to depression and anxiety, as well. The light from the screens causes our circadian rhythms to be thrown off a normal course, which causes a disruption in our sleeping patterns. This, along with pressures from society and our very own parents, can lead to a very difficult time in adolescence, which later causes problems in adult life.

However, these pressures are different from the pressures that are happening in countries with high suicide rates, such as Japan, whose suicide rate, according to a 2015 article in The Wilson Quarterly, is about 60 percent above the global average, with about 70 people killing themselves a day. In Japan, notes left behind by children blamed their issues on school pressure. The  students who do not fit into a group suffer greatly as people between the ages of 10-24 suffer about 4,600 suicides throughout the year.

Japan also has a lack of psychiatrists because the government lacks programs to train clinical psychologists. They have failed to discuss mental health and urge kids with issues to drop out of school, which is surprising considering 1 in 12 kids in Japan are depressed. Japan has exams which determine middle school, high school, university, and seemingly one’s entire future. The better one does on the exams, the better school he or she will get into – all starting at a very tender age.  In Japan, there really is no other path in life except strong academics.

Wherever the pressures are coming from, whether it be societal, parental, school, or all three, teen suicide is a major issue. Parents should look themselves in the mirror and ask whether or not they have asked their child what they want.  The A on a test or the acceptance into an Ivy league school doesn’t necessarily matter unless your child is happy where they are headed. Base your praise on what morally good things your child does, or a good joke they made. Perhaps do not only focus on what they have achieved in school because often, it becomes their enemy, and what causes them the most pain as they try to make their parents proud.