September 19, 2019

Six Questions That Could Save A Life


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Laura Lee, 53, with invisible wounds and scars. I've learned to embrace PTSD and depression because if I don't own them, they'll own me.  I don't want to simply survive, but to thrive.  I hope you'll join me on my journey.  It's sure to be a bumpy road.


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I attempted suicide more than one time, but was only hospitalized for it on one occasion.   September is Suicide Awareness Month, so although I’ve written about my personal experience in The Night God Sat At My Bedside, I wanted to discuss suicide from the perspective of what YOU can do and how to recognize the difference between warning signs and risk factors and the six questions you can ask that could save someone’s life.

I’ve had suicidal ideations as recently as 2016, even though at that time I was in intensive therapy – seeing my therapist.

I’ve had suicidal ideations as recently as 2016, even though at that time I was in intensive  therapy – seeing my therapist 3x a week.  I had a supportive husband.  Wonderful children.  And, amazing grandsons.   Yet, I was still in the depths of depression.  Not one person outside of my immediate family and my therapist asked me if I was suicidal.  One of my daughters actually called my therapist on behalf of the family.

I wonder how many of you personally know someone who has either died by suicide or who has attempted suicide?  You may not even realize someone you know and/or love has attempted or has suicidal ideations, but odds are, you do.   I personally intervened in a suicide attempt in the late 90s.  Many years after my last attempt.



According to a 2017 statistic by the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 800,000 people die from suicide every single year.  That’s one death every 40 seconds.  In the US more people die every day from suicide than by traffic accidents.  It’s staggering to thing about.  Imagine the number of people will die by the time you’ve finished reading this.  According to Columbia Lighthouse Project that’s more deaths worldwide than war, homicide, and natural disasters combined.

They also report that of the people who die by suicide, nearly 50% had a visit with their primary care provide within a month of their deaths and 25% were seen in the emergency room within the last 12 months before their deaths for a reason that was not related to a psychiatric event.

Close to 16% of high school students have seriously contemplated suicide and almost 10% have attempted (Centers for Disease Control).   Suicide is THE LEADING cause of death of adolescent girls (World Health Organization).  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in the US, it’s the second leading cause of death for those 10-34.  That bears repeating….10 years old!  I found some sites that refer to the statistic as 10-24 years, but this is the statistic right from the CDC website.  And, according to the WHO it’s the second leading cause of death for 15-29 year olds.

Warning sign


Do you know the difference between warning signs and risk factors?  People often get the two confused.

If someone…

  1. Talks about wanting to die…
  2. Looks for a way to kill themselves, like searching for ways online or buying a weapon
  3. Talks about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live…
  4. Talks about feeling trapped in in unbearable pain whether it’s emotional or physical pain…
  5. Talks about being a burden to others,..
  6. Increases the use of alcohol or drugs…
  7. Acts anxious or agitated; behaves recklessly, like driving too fast…
  8. Sleeps too little or too much…
  9. Withdraws from friends and loves ones or feels isolated
  10. Shows anger or rage or talks about seeking revenge
  11. Displays extreme mood swings
  12. Talks about feeling empty, hopeless, or has no reason to live…
  13. Makes a plan…
  14. Talks a lot about guilt or shame…
  15. Talk or things about death often…
  16. Changes eating habits…
  17. Gives way important possession…
  18. Says goodbye to family and friends…
  19. OR puts affairs in order…


Of these, the only ones that I didn’t say or do were to say goodbye, put my affairs in order, or give away possessions.

Having access to firearms is one risk factor


Remember that suicide does not discriminate.  People of all genders, ages, ethnicities, and employment status are at risk.  Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but overall men are more likely to die by suicide because they choose more lethal methods.  In other words, a man may use a gun whereas a woman may try sleeping pills and has a greater chance of medical attention that can intervene.

Risk factors include…

  • Depression, other mental illnesses, or substance abuse
  • Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Chronic pain
  • A prior suicide attempt
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence – including physical or sexual abuse
  • Having access to firearms
  • Having recently been released from prison or jail (risk is 3x higher in the US)
  • Other legal or criminal problems
  • Being between the ages of 15 and 34 or over the age of 60
  • Relationship problems
  • Financial problems
  • Loss of housing
  • Crisis in the past two weeks or upcoming two weeks
  • Cultural or religious belief that suicide is a noble way out of personal predicament
  • Impulsive tendencies


All this said, suicide rates among military veterans is 1 ½ times higher than non-veterans – approximately 20-22 veterans die each day.   In 2012 and 2013 more military members died from suicide than in combat (cssrs.columbia.edu).

And, a recent study shows that suicide among veterinarians is higher than the national average with female veterinarians more likely to die than male – which differs from the nation trend.  Veterinarians have easy access to lethal medications used euthanize their patients and are using it to kill themselves.

Also, according to a recent study cited on the Trevor Project by the CDC, LGBTQ youth contemplate suicide 3x more frequently than their heterosexual counterparts and 5x more likely to make an actual attempt.


Six questions that could save a life



So, what are these 6 questions?

  1. Have you wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up?
  2. Have you actually had any thoughts about killing yourself?
  3. Have you thought about how you might do this?
  4. Have you had any intention of acting on these thoughts of killing yourself, as opposed to you have the thoughts but you definitely would not act on them?
  5. Have you started to work out or worked out the details of how to kill yourself? Do you intend to carry out this plan?
  6. Have you done anything, started to do anything, or prepared to do anything to end your life?


These questions come from the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale.  There’s a little more to it than what I’ve outlined here.  Use the link to print out your own universal card that can be used to assess your friend, co-worker, or loved one.

There’s even a questionnaire – that has more than 6 questions for very young children and one for those who are cognitively impaired…using language that they would understand.  Look for the cards that say “VERY YOUNG CHILDREN” and “COGNITIVELY IMPAIRED.”

Asking someone if he’s suicidal will not increase his risk of killing himself.  This is exactly what I did.  And, he told me, “YES!”  that he was not only planning, but had already attempted once and failed.  Remember though, too, that if someone tells you, “NO” it doesn’t mean they’re always telling you the truth.

There are people willing to support you until you believe in yourself.

Lastly, if you’re having thoughts of suicide, reach out to someone or visit my resource page.  You’ll find ways you can text, call, or chat online for help.  Or, call 911.

I promise you, things do get better.  They may not be better tomorrow or the next day, but they DO get better and you can’t even imagine in your wildest dreams the amazing things that await you.  I know though, that telling you isn’t enough to believe it, but there are people who are willing to support you until you do.

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comments   | 

  1. I thought you had a lot of good information in your article. I especially love the questions you provided to ask. Even asking one of these questions can make all the difference.

  2. Holly Bird says:

    Great post!! SO important to be aware of the people around us. Some of these questions could be hard to ask, but they are necessary if you feel anyone in your life may be having problems a difficult question to ask is easier then the guilt of not asking! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Robin says:

    Great post! So much info and someone close to me really needed to see this. Thank you!

  4. Lora says:

    I work with children and teens with depression. This is a very important topic and teaching communication about the topic is key. Thank you for your mental health awareness.

  5. Ellen says:

    There is some great information here. Your list of questions is especially helpful. They show your loved one that you care, you know? Like you’ve thought through what you want to say, and care deeply about them. Thank you for those.

  6. Michelle says:

    This really brought back some tough times. I attempted, twice when I was younger. Within the past 2 years it has been a prominent thought in my mind again, as I have been really ill. But, I knew from my years in therapy that I didn’t want to die, I just want the pain to end. I remember when my niece was born and I held her for the first time, I balled. In that moment I realized that if I was successful I would never have met her, held her, and seen my brother so happy. I make sure to hold onto that moment fiercely because it reminds me when I am in that place, there is more things to come that I would absolutely hate to miss out on. Thank you for making this awareness.

    • Laura Lee says:

      Yes! I know those feelings all too well. I pray that you can find peace and when in dark places hold on to the fact that you’ve found your way out before and can again.

      If you haven’t already, check out my information and resources page for hotlines, crisis text lines and chat lines. There’s always someone to listen and help if you’re in a dark place.

      Sometimes all the good things in our lives still don’t seem to be enough. So please, don’t be afraid to reach out.

  7. Kendra says:

    Great questions. I just discovered yesterday that they are teaching suicide awareness in my son’s high school health class now. I was so glad to hear that!

  8. Lisa says:

    ThAnks for sharing! So important to be aware. Most of us know someone who has done this or been affected by someone who did take their life

  9. Angela says:

    An important topic that is outlined to really drive the key points home. This was another good article.

  10. Eva says:

    So if someone I love IS having suicidal thoughts and they admit it to me when I ask, what do I do next? This isn’t something I’ve ever struggled with, so I am not knowledgeable about this topic.
    Thank you for sharing your heart.

    • Laura Lee says:

      Eva, first of all, don’t leave them alone. Then call 911 or text 741-741 (crisis text) or call 1-800-273-TALK (suicide hotline).

      If you go the C-SSRS link where you can download the PDF, it gives you step-by-step instructions based on the answers to each question.

      If you need further help, please let me know. I’m more than willing to help through the process.

  11. This is an excellent post to remind us of the needs of people around us. Thank you for your honesty and transparency!

  12. Candy K says:

    This is such great info. Thanks for sharing your story to help others.

  13. Cameron says:

    Thank you for sharing all of this. It’s so important to listen to those in our life and to pay attention to clues if someone might be at risk.

  14. Jen says:

    Wow those statistics are mind blowing. Thank you for sharing this important information – it needs to be shared.

  15. Tiffany says:

    The more people talk about this, the more this conversation becomes “normal” and people feel more comfortable speaking of mental health and mental wellness – very important for everyone.

  16. Jody says:

    This is a very useful article. So many people suffer with this your information could save a life.

  17. Karen says:

    My father committed suicide many years ago. This was not his first attempt and we knew the end was near. He saw a therapist regularly and was on medication but saw no hope.

  18. jen says:

    Good questions… and tough. I have been in the position of having to ask these more than once. It’s a tough conversation to have but vital.

  19. Shannon says:

    I work in the mental health field. Asking these questions is so important. Then, getting people to support from there.

  20. Suzan says:

    You never know when asking just one of these questions may have an impact. Thanks for sharing.

  21. What an important post, Laura Lee. Thank you. Risk factors are good to have knowledge of, and the warning signs potentially even more so. Amazing job intervening when you did.

  22. Definitely a tough article to write, I am sure, but it is definitely a great article to have out there. Those statistics hurt my heart a little bit.

  23. Lisa Shivel says:

    Thank you for sharing! This is very important and the statistics are outrageous and mind-blowing.

  24. judean says:

    Powerful! While I was reading, I would like to learn more about stats behind those who recently been released from prison or jail (risk is 3x higher in the US). I wonder if the type of crimes they committed lead to this decision or if its the amount of time spent in prison, etc.

  25. 800,000 people every year is impactful. That is a massive number. I was surprised to read about veterinarians and honestly wondered if it might be a typo until I read further. Thank you for sharing your story and for sharing so much information that could be useful for others. I suspect that you did not succeed so that God could use you to help others.

  26. Jenna says:

    Such an important topic to discuss. Thanks for being so open and honest about it!

  27. Haley Kelley says:

    I think posts like this are so important because there are a lot of people out there who need help and don’t know how to ask and also plenty of people that don’t know what the signs look like in order to help before it’s too late.

  28. Cindy says:

    I think asking is good. And watching for signs also. I lost a good friend to suicide. I saw the signs. I asked the questions. I spent time listening and talking. I called his therapist, whom he had seen two days before, the day before the suicide. The therapist chewed me out and told me to back off and let him figure it out. He killed himself in spite of it all. I learned from that that if someone really really wants to die, it may be very difficult to prevent it. My friend didn’t say a word the day of his death. He just did it. And left a ton of devastation behind him.

  29. T.M. says:

    Very informative and detailed post – such an important topic for us to all to keep in mind. Too often, the signs go unnoticed.

  30. Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! 🙂

  31. BrianFrawn says:

    Many thanks for sharing this cool web-site.

  32. I have been reading out some of your posts and it’s pretty good stuff. I will surely bookmark your site.

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Laura Lee, 52, with invisible wounds and scars.  I've learned to embrace PTSD and depression because if I don't own them, they'll own me.  I don't want to simply survive, but to thrive.  I hope you'll join me on my journey.  It's sure to be a bumpy road.



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