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Daughter Who Killed Son and Self Was Suicidal, Waukee Mother Says; Expert Weighs-In on the Signs

Kelli Sly, 23, had been battling depression and suicidal thoughts in the days leading up to the killing of her son and her subsequent suicide over the weekend.

It's hard to say when Kelli Sly hit bottom.

The 23-year-old graduate of Waukee High School and mother to 2-year-old Gavin struggled with the problems of everyday life, according to interviews with her mother, Sherri Sinclair of Waukee.

But apparently it wasn't just the separation from her husband, a lost job or even feeling alone in caring for her young son that made her decide to .

Sinclair told The Des Moines Register that Sly had been battling depression and bipolar disorder since she was a teenager. 

Sinclair told The Register that Sly told her Saturday that she was having suicidal thoughts, which happened before. Police say that officers who were called to check on her that night were told by Sly herself that she wasn't going to kill herself. She was just frustrated with her husband over custody of their son. Just hours later, both Sly and her son were dead.

Signs of Depression

Sly's depression first manifested itself when she was a teenager, according to her mother, and eventually led to multiple suicide attempts.

Depression is categorized as having five or more symptoms that include: sadness, guilt, irritability, loss of energy, loss of interest, changes in sleep, appetite changes and suicidal thoughts. 

Jeff Kerber, the clinic administrator for Iowa Health Counseling Centers, said one thing to keep in mind when trying to assess a person's level of depression is whether they appear different from their usual self.

"The first thing to sort out is how someone's mood differs from their norm," he said. "Maybe they're always in a transient mood, pretty down or frustrated. The critical thing is to what degree is that different from the person’s baseline demeanor. Unfortunately, people get wrapped up in the symptoms and forget about the comparison."

Kerber said depression is both a mental disorder and a chemical one and can be treated through therapy as well as medication. Seeing your physician can be the first step in getting you, or someone you care about, back on the road to better mental health.

Thoughts of Suicide

Suicidal thoughts, says Kerber, are among the most serious symptoms of depression. He says Sly's apparent decision to take her own life fits a certain suicidal ideation common among those people who suffer from severe, long term depression.

Kerber said sometimes even the smallest uptick in a person's otherwise cloudy demeanor can be a red flag that something more serious may be taking place beneath the surface.

"It’s really slippery territory," he said. "But that sudden change in mood, that is a red flag. It's the grandfather of all red flags. The fact is, if anyone even gives you a hint, you act as if it’s serious. Period."

In central Iowa, Kerber says, hospitals like Mercy Franklin, Broadlawns, and Iowa Lutheran all have 24-hour access centers where patients can be assessed should they show signs of being suicidal or talk about hurting themselves or others. 

He also said the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available when you don't know where else to turn. The national hotline at (800) 273-TALK will direct you to local resources so you can get the help you need at home.

Jessica Miller March 27, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Has anyone given the cause of death on the boy? I know this is an awful tragedy but the cop reporter in me just really wants to know.
Jody Gifford March 27, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Jessica, authorities believe Sly may have poisoned her son. They won't know for sure cause of death until toxicology reports comes back.
Deanna Moore March 28, 2012 at 02:10 PM
This is such a tragedy all the way around.Please say lots of prayers for the whole family and community. Everyone has been affected by this situation in some way or another.
Jamie-Nicole Davison August 30, 2012 at 12:44 AM
This is so sad! :'(

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