The San Ramon Valley is trying to come to terms with today's news that a most likely jumped to her death Monday morning from the Golden Gate Bridge.
News of high-profile public suicides and attempted suicides throughout the East Bay sadly isn't anything new. Just last week, a San Ramon hotel was evacuated because a Redwood City man there using helium.
Last summer, 24-year-old Joe Baumgardner, a graduate of — in the same school district now mourning the loss of San Ramon Valley High School sophomore Allison Bayliss — died of an apparent at a San Ramon convenience store.
Around the same time, authorities reported that a by ramming his car into a utility pole on a busy street.
In February of 2010, a 14-year-old Amador Valley High School student jumped in front of a moving train in Pleasanton and was killed. And earlier this spring, a Livermore man jumped to his death from an Interstate 580 freeway overpass after taking a taxi there.
All were very public acts of apparent suicide, or attempted suicide, that affected not just the family and friends of the victims but the larger community as well.
To try to put these incidents into context for our readers last summer, Patch contacted local mental health groups, including the Contra Costa Crisis Center, for tips on how to spot the warning signs that a person may be suicidal and for information on how to cope with the loss of a loved one.
This is what we learned then, and the advice still holds true today:
"Suicide is a very complex behavior, there's usually no single sign that is telltale," said John Bateson, executive director of the crisis center. "But there are certain clues that are more telltale than others."
Some of those signs are obvious, like a person withdrawing from friends and family or going through some extreme behavioral change or altering their personal appearance. Some battling suicidal thoughts will give away their possessions, make comments about how they feel useless in life or, often in young people, express suicidal feelings in art, Bateson said.
"There's no one way to tell," he said. "You have to look at the bigger picture."
In Contra Costa County, reported suicides have increased 33 percent since 2008, according to the crisis center. That's from 95 to 125 a year. Comparable Alameda County numbers were not available, but in 2007 135 of the county's residents took their own lives; of those deaths, 22 were in the 15- to 24-year-old age group.
Bateson attributes some of Contra County's increase in suicides to the recession. Unemployment rates and suicide attempts have historically risen together, he said, though they often go unreported by families, whether it's for the stigma around it or for insurance purposes.
More often than not, suicide is inexplicable, or the result of a maelstrom of mental pain, stress or illness, Bateson added. The elderly, who have the highest suicide rate of any group, according to the Centers for Disease Control, may struggle to deal with their failing health and increasing dependence on others. Or, a young person may feel pressure to do well in school.
"There's a myth that the most at-risk to suicide are the bad kids," said Bateson. "But more often than not, we see it's the straight-A student. It's the kids who have never flunked a test, and suddenly, if something bad happens, they haven't developed strong enough coping mechanisms to deal with it."
It's unclear what motivated Bayliss, a sophomore, to ride her mountain bike to school Monday morning around 8 a.m. and then disappear. It was later discovered, based on her home computer records, that she had gotten directions to take BART, ulimately ending up Fort Point in San Francisco, near the Golden Gate Bridge.
Police knew from the start that she wasn't a crime victim, and she was listed as a youth at-risk of harming herself.
Eve Meyer, the executive director of the nonprofit San Francisco Suicide Prevention, said teenagers are more impulsive about suicide than adults are.
She said it is important for parents to talk to their children about how they're feeling and to make sure adolescents have someone to talk to during times of "crisis," a temporary state during which a depressed individual is at risk of harming him or herself.
Although it is not easy, parents should ask their children, "Who do you trust that you would tell you're in trouble if you didn't want to talk to me?" Meyer said.
They should also make their children aware of crisis lines and other suicide prevention tools, such as online chats. Suicidal individuals can log on to www.sfsuicide.org and have a live chat with a crisis counselor without having to use a phone.
"You want to make your child promise you that before they do anything, they will talk to one adult," Meyer added.
Parents should also make sure their households are as safe as possible, which includes keeping firearms out of the home and disposing of any unused medication.
Family of those who kill themselves, in many cases, look back at what the victim said, or how they acted, for missed signs of suicidal thoughts, said Bateson.
"Invariably, it is such a complicated mindset that unless you've been suicidal, it's difficult for someone of normal thinking to see that point of view," he said. "The best we can do is let people know that there is help."
At a glance
- If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, there are people who want to help you. Call 24-hour suicide hotlines at 800-SUICIDE or 800-273-TALK. The local hotline is 800-833-2900 or call Discovery Counseling Center, 925-820-1988. In Alameda County, visit http://www.crisissupport.org/home or call the hotline at 800-309-2131.
- For those who have already lost a loved one to suicide, there is a separate grief hotline at 800-837-1818.
Bay City News contributed to this report.