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Caltrain posts new suicide-prevention signs

Hotline calls to be tracked as part of nationwide study on signs' effectiveness

Suicide-prevention signs along the Caltrain tracks will be updated as part of a nation-wide study on whether they are effective.

Caltrain will spend $110,000 to erect 250 new "There is Help" signs along a 10-mile stretch that includes Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View, Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

Calls to the crisis hotline number on the signs will be tracked in an attempt to measure whether the signs actually help to prevent suicides.

The phone number listed on the signs belongs to Youth and Family Enrichment Services of San Carlos, Dunn said.

The initiative is part of a larger study by the American Association of Suicidology to measure the effectiveness of suicide-prevention signs. The study also includes signs along train right-of-ways on the east coast, Dunn said.

A "very small number" of local suicides actually are committed on Caltrain, but the agency is trying to do its part in what is a community-wide problem, Dunn said.

Of the 299 suicides logged in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties from 2006 to 2008, 27 were on the Caltrain tracks, she said.

In the aftermath of five Palo Alto student suicides on the tracks from May 2009 to January 2010, Caltrain has worked with Palo Alto's Project Safety Net as well as with suicide-prevention authorities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

The new signs, to be unveiled next week, replace an older set of signs along Caltrain's right-of-way that offered the crisis hotline number 1-800-SUICIDE.

"One of the problems with that is that, with some of the new cell phones that's no longer useful because they don't have the letters on them so it's of no benefit.

"Also, this time we've partnered with a local crisis-intervention center to take the calls, and that enables us to track them and determine whether the signs are effective or not," Dunn said.

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