Can Meditation Prevent Suicide?

  • By Sara Tewksbury & Ari Daniel
  • Posted 08.25.16
  • NOVA

Over several years, Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California reeled from a string of student suicides. A group of educators and students responded by working with health professionals to get to the root of the problem. Their answer was to implement meditation and mindfulness training to improve student wellbeing and mental health.

Running Time: 03:06


Cole McFaul: I like to think of myself as a good student.

Ari: Cole McFaul is a senior at Henry M. Gunn High in Palo Alto, California—a school known for its academic rigor and strong student performance.

Cole: So I do student government. President of the Chinese Culture Club. I’m also big into basketball. And try to manage all of that with the studying, that leads to stress.

Maybe it’s from your parents, maybe it’s from your friends, maybe it’s from your teachers pushing you... It’s probably really unhealthy for me.

Claude Steele: You get a very intense pressure. A set of test scores and grades that might make you a hero in another school, you just wonder if you can make it.

Cole: Cam was his name. He was one of my close friends. He was the guy on the basketball team that would just be laughing all the time.

I walked into my class late. Somebody said, “Cam committed suicide.” And I was like, “What? Like, that can’t be right at all.” I’ve never cried so hard. I definitely went through the denial phase for the next couple days. I was like, “Damn.” So, yeah.

Denise Herrmann: One of our former students died by suicide, and two months later one of our current students died by suicide, and a month and a half later a third student died by suicide. And it was a pretty tumultuous time on our campus.

Ari: Since 2009, Gunn High School has experienced eight suicides. More than half occurred within a single calendar year.

Cole: I just looked at the situation. I was like, “This shouldn’t be happening… something has to change.”

Ari: So alongside teachers, health practitioners and administrators—Cole and his fellow students have been working to change the culture at the school.

Denise Herrmann: Pretty much every possible decision that I make about this school I make through the lens of, “Is this going to contribute to student well-being?”

Cole: The academic stuff is not as important as teaching students how to take care of themselves and how to be happy.

Mindfulness Teacher: We constantly learn about how to fill our minds with new information but when do we actually learn to how empty it and make some space, right? So today we’re gonna get a chance to do that.

Ari: To reduce stress, Gunn High School’s introduced mindfulness training to its regular phys. ed. program.

Mindfulness Teacher: Breathe in.

Cole: Out of all this terrible that happened to our school, the one good thing that happened was this awareness of mental health and how people are doing and just being considerate. That culture of checking in—“How you doin,’ how you doin,’ how you doin’?” And then not just saying, “I’m okay,” or, “I’m good.” But actually caring about how are you actually doing.



Editor & Producer
Sara Tewksbury
Narrator & Production Assistant
Ari Daniel
Directors of Photography
Jason Longo & Lincoln Else
Adriano Bravo
Documentary Editors
Bruce Shaw & Geoff Gruetzmacher
Documentary Director/Producer
Phil Bertelsen
Documentary Co-Producer
Jane Teeling
Documentary Associate Producer
Natalia Warchol
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2016




(main image: students doing mindfulness training)
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2016

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