After 'Suicide Cluster' in Palo Alto, Students Share Stories of Anxiety, Depression

The CDC's epidemiological assistance team are starting an investigation on the "suicide contagion" risk in the California city.
6:33 | 02/17/16

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Transcript for After 'Suicide Cluster' in Palo Alto, Students Share Stories of Anxiety, Depression
? Deep in the heart of silicon valley something is going terribly wrong with young people. My "Nightline" co-anchor Byron Pitts takes us to ant iconic community that now has a teen suicide rate five times the national average. This is a story every parent needs to see. Reporter: Sun-kissed and tree-lined, Palo alto, California. Silicon valley is the most innovative place in the world. Reporter: Where one idea today can change the world tomorrow. Reporter: Houses here sell for millions, and the high schools are top notch. But the limitless potential that Palo alto projects has another A so-called hot spot for suicides P. Because of the sheer number it was just massive. Reporter: Just last year four Palo alto teens took their own lives, enough to be considered a suicide cluster. And this was the second one to rock this community in six years. We were losing a child about every six weeks. Obviously there's like a crisis. Reporter: Now with the teen suicide rate five times the national average, prompting the CDC to announce today an investigation as to why so many kids here have chosen to end it all. A 16-year-old boy took his own life. Reporter: On the night one of her classmates died, student Martha Cabot took to youtube placing blame, what she called her town's pressure cooker environment. It went viral. The amount of stress on a student is ridiculous. Reporter: For Christian Leong and Andrew Baird, at the time juniors at the other public high school in town, word of his death stunned them. It was really sad for me because I didn't ever think that that kind of thing is even possible for someone our age. Reporter: What does it, do you think? For your peers and people suddenly realize it is an option, when someone they know takes that option. Well, with the whole nature of suicide clusters, we see that when one person does it other people who considered it as an option may consider it more seriously. Which is really frightening. I can't even figure myself out? How on Earth am I to expect anyone else to? Reporter: So last summer they made this documentary called "Unmask "Unmasked." Their classmates revealing their own struggles with anxiety and depression. Through my struggles with depression I self-medicated a lot with alcohol and drugs. I was suffering anxiety attacks. They're trying to take off the happy everything is okay mask that our community has and really just talk about the deep problems that we're going through. Reporter: Where does that pressure come from? Does it come from classmates? Does it come from teachers? Does it come from parents? I think if we knew the answer then it would be a lot easier to solve the problem. Reporter: Dr. Madeline Gould, an epidemiologist at Columbia university, was invited to Palo alto to study what could be causing the alarming number of teen suicides. There are many communities that have high stress levels and are economically advantaged and they haven't experienced a suicide cluster. Reporter: She cautions that one teen suicide can have the frightening and unintended consequence of signaling to other teens that it's a real option. in any other age group. So between the social influences and the biological influences it makes them much more vulnerable to being influenced by somebody else's suicide. Reporter: And what they can't see at that time is that there are other ways out of the pain, something Taylor Chu is alive to feel grateful for. It's still to this day I struggle with the terminology attempted icide. Reporter: The now graduate of Palo alto high school says the pressure during her freshman year to achieve was too much. It was just insane. I did almost all of the A.P. Classes I could take. Reporter: Taylor says sleep was the one thing she didn't make time for. For a long time I'd been feeling like I was drowning. I didn't know how to say that I needed a break. Reporter: It led her to one impulsive moment of desperation. What I was trying to achieve was this separation from my reality that I couldn't face. Reporter: Her parents got her into treatment. And with the help of her teachers she made changes to lessen her load. But Julianna tachabana's brother Ben didn't get the help he needed. He was a sophomore when he took his own life. The message these two women who have overcome enormous pain want to spread -- life is worth living. If you have people around you that kind of keep reminding you that it is going to get better. Things are really look up. Reporter: Mark vincenti, a former English teacher at Gunn high school who mourned the loss of some of his own students, sees a need for change in the classroom. There is a lot that classrooms can do to make teenage despair more bearable and more survivable. That the school environment is crucial. Reporter: He believes smaller class sizes and, yes, less homework. Students feeling like they can say enough could make a difference. What's so cllenging about going to high school in this part of the country? The things that are challenging about going to high school here I believe are infecting high schools across the country because we see now a national discussion about overstressed, burned-out teernlgds. Reporter: Gunn high school has taken action, implementing the yes program to teach students positive coping techniques to deal with stress. The thing that I'm most proud of is that we're not doing just one or two things. We're really looking at holistic plans to sort of build a web of support for our students. Reporter: In suicide clusters are definitely not just a Palo alto problem. What we found is that it crosses every socioeconomic characteristic. Communities have been impoverished, and we've seen them have a suicide cluster. Very driven, wealthy communities have suicide clusters. Reporter: And it turns out some 15% to 20% of all teens have considered suicide. But reducing stigma around depression and creating dialogue about mental health are crucial steps toward preventing these deaths. It really is a community effort. It's really everyone has a role, everyone has a part. It could just be noticing someone's snd going over to them and saying hey, are you okay? Do you want to talk? And those little instances of reaching out I think go a long way. Reporter: For "Nightline" I'm Byron Pitts. Our thanks to Byron for that important report. resources about mental health and suicide prevention, including Diane sawyer's recent interview with sue klebold about her book "A mother's reckoning" you can go to our website at

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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