NORMAL — Mike and Kim Predmore, whose youngest son, Chris, killed himself in his Illinois State University dorm room nearly two years ago, don't want other parents to go through what they did.
“Chris seemed fine when we moved him in,” said Mike Predmore, sitting with his wife in their Bartonville home. “Three months later, we were planning his funeral.”
With many students soon heading off to college, some for the first time, the Predmores hope parents will talk to their children about whatever stress they might be feeling and look into what services are available at their schools.
They also hope a law they helped get passed, the Student Optional Disclosure of Private Mental Health Act, will lead to more open communication between parents, students and health professionals at colleges and universities.
Mike Predmore described his son as “a good kid. He had a wit that could get him into trouble and a smile that could get him out of it.” He was on the honor roll in high school and participated in church mission trips.
“He had more friends than anyone I know,” said his mother, noting her son's involvement in church, a youth group and sports. “We didn't have any indication that he was having problems.”
Even after Chris sent some texts to a friend indicating he wanted to die, prompting his parents to call ISU police to check on him, they thought it was something that could be worked out with counseling.
Two weeks later, Nov. 15, 2014, Chris was found dead in his ISU residence hall. He was 18.
It wasn't until after they obtained medical records from ISU following his death that his parents discovered Chris had contemplated suicide during the summer before starting college. Chris told a counselor he had put a belt around his neck, but decided not to go through with it, Mike Predmore said.
Federal privacy rules prevented the counselor and the university from previously disclosing that information to his parents.
When Kim Predmore called two days after the Nov. 1 incident to see whether her son had followed through on his promise to get counseling, “We were told they can't even tell if he came in for counseling,” she said.
The Predmores are trying to change that.
They worked with state Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, and Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, for passage of law that requires colleges and universities to prepare a form for all incoming students to either approve or decline release of mental health information to a designated person over age 18.
The law, signed a year ago by Gov. Bruce Rauner, took effect Jan. 1 and is limited. As noted in its name, the disclosure is optional — a student can decline such disclosure and their parents are not necessarily the ones who would receive the information. Furthermore, disclosure would only take place if a physician, clinical psychologist or qualified examiner employed by the institution determines “the student poses a clear danger to himself, herself or others.”
Sandy Colbs, director of Student Counseling Services at ISU, said the law doesn't change much of what ISU already does, but it still can be beneficial.
“Potentially, it does help students think through their potential future circumstances in advance,” Colbs said. “Hopefully, it would encourage some dialogue between students and their families.”
ISU is implementing the law by having the form on an internet “portal” where students can do such things as check their grades and schedules. It is flagged as part of a “to do” list, reminding students each semester to update their emergency contacts list, Colbs explained.
At Illinois Wesleyan University, emails are sent to students each fall encouraging them to go to the school's website to identify who, if anyone, they would want to have notified, according to Annorah Moorman, assistant dean and director of IWU counseling services. She said a follow-up email also is sent, the school has not had a situation where the notification was needed since the law took effect.
Working on behalf of the law is one way the Predmores have coped with their feelings after their son's death. They traveled to Springfield four times in support of the bill and testified before committees of the House and Senate. They also have talked about the suicide at a high school program and have been involved in fundraisers for suicide awareness and prevention programs.
The three things they would like to see is parents being able to find out more information about their children, more time being spent at college orientation sessions on the difficulty of the transition from high school to college and greater awareness, leading to parents and their children discussing such things as stress and counseling.
Mike Predmore said they have learned a lot from sharing experiences with other parents.
“What has helped us is to raise awareness,” he said. “This could happen to any parent.”