Like many families, Dave and Sheila Blanco navigated their daughter's mental health struggles with little prior knowledge or past experiences to draw from. They learned a lot in the process, and even though it wasn't enough to save their daughter, their hope is that their hard-gained knowledge can help others. Here are tips from them, along with mental health professionals, for other parents or loved ones of kids facing mental illness:
- Look for behavioral changes. Carli had isolated herself from friends before her death, and also saw a sense of happiness come over her right before she died. Both can be signs a person is considering suicide, said Alexa James, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A decline in school or job performance, or a shift toward being more confrontational, can also be warning signs, she said. So is saying goodbye to people or giving away possessions.
- Ask questions. Suicide might be the ultimate taboo subject, but addressing it head-on can help, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Asking "Are you thinking of killing yourself?" sounds direct, but studies show it doesn't lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts and can lead to a breakthrough, according to the group.
- Stay in touch. Research shows that suicide deaths decrease when someone follows up with a person who seems suicidal or has attempted to take their life.
- Limit access to deadly objects. Access to lethal items increases the success rate of suicide attempts, according to the Harvard study. The study shows that suicide attempts occur with little planning and with available objects. Removing deadly weapons like guns or pills can help, studies show.
- Be vigilant. Teens who spend five hours or more per day on their cell phone or other Internet-connected device are 70 percent more likely to have risk factors for suicide, one study shows. The Blancos suggest limiting phone time, especially at night, when virtual taunts and texts can keep kids up and make the problem worse. "Get in the habit of telling [your kid], 'I love you, you're important, I value you, and give me your cell phone.' And get in the habit of going through these messages," Dave said.
The National Association of School Psychologists
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
Suicide crisis text line: text START to 741741
National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago referral help line: 312-563-0445 v