A large number of suicides among teenagers in a Silicon Valley town has convinced officials at the US Centers for Disease Control to investigate "suicide contagion" in the California community.
Five students or recent graduates of Palo Alto's prestigious Henry M Gunn High School committed suicide between 2009 and 2010, which was followed by an "echo" suicide cluster from 2014 to 2015 when another four high school students in the town killed themselves.
Members of the CDC's epidemiological assistance team are now beginning an investigation of the suicide contagion risk in a similar way that they probe a viral or bacterial outbreak that spreads through a community. The town is hoping that federal health officials will help residents find innovative ways to combat suicide when it becomes a "contagion", ABC News reports.
Some programmes already established include teaching students techniques to handle stress through yoga and breathing exercises, and one that brings in recent alumni to talk about life after high school.
Suicide clusters occur almost exclusively among teens and young adults, who are far more likely to mimic one another's behavior. Teens are at a vulnerable time in their lives when they are more apt to be influenced by their peers, even to the point of death, than when they're more mature, according to experts.
"Between both the social influences and biological influences, it makes them much more vulnerable to being influenced by somebody else's suicide," Madelyn Gould, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University, told ABC.
Palo Alto is not the only community hit hard by suicide clusters recently. In the past five years, the CDC has also investigated incidents in Fairfax County, Virginia, and two counties in Delaware where suicide clusters affected teens and young adults.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Americans between the age of 15 to 24 and the third-leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 to 15, according to CDC statistics.