Steinberg Institute

Vic Ojakian

Former Palo Alto mayor; activist
IMPACT: Scaling up suicide prevention

Vic Ojakian lives with the wound of having lost a son to suicide. He knows the ache of loving and missing someone who by all rights should still be at your side.

Vic’s son, Adam, died by suicide, at age 21, while a student at UC Davis. In the 14 years since, Vic has channeled his grief into determined efforts to grow suicide awareness and prevention programs at the local and statewide levels. His goal is to give people considering suicide solutions other than death, and to give families, schools and communities tools for effective and timely intervention.

Each year in California, 4,000 people die by suicide, and another 45,000 try to do so. It is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 0-18. One recent survey found that more than half of Californians have lost someone to suicide or know someone who tried. “I don’t know of another public health issue of this magnitude that’s not being addressed,” Vic said in a 2014 interview with A2A Alliance.

Vic and his wife, Mary, have worked doggedly to both educate and legislate around the issue. Vic, a former Mayor and City Councilman in Palo Alto, is Co-President of NAMI Santa Clara County. He and his wife developed a tool kit for suicide prevention in use in middle and high schools around the state. Vic has advocated for millions of dollars in state funding to develop suicide prevention plans at college campuses. He has successfully pushed legislation to ensure mental health professionals in the state are trained in effective suicide prevention techniques.

At core, Vic’s message is that suicide is preventable and we can’t be afraid to talk about it: “When people start to understand we can do something,” he told A2A, “something will get done.”

We salute you, Vic, for drawing strength from loss, and for your efforts to weave a stronger safety net for all our children.

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