Working people, union members rank highest in St. Clair County suicides

Friends are urged to show they care

Illinois Correspondent

Belleville, IL – When suicide prevention workers completed a study of 10 years of data in St. Clair County, they found a surprising result. The largest group, accounting for 20 percent of suicides, was working men, many of them union members.

Diana Cuddeback, of Suicide Prevention Alliance of St. Clair County, spoke to the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council to share skills for helping family, friends and coworkers.

The most important thing that friends and loved ones can do to prevent suicide is to step up and show their concern and support for the potentially suicidal person, she said.

“If you are concerned about somebody, just don’t wait. Just ask the question. There’s no point in waiting,” Cuddeback said. “It’s less important how you ask the question and more important that you just do it.

“Give yourself plenty of time,” she added. “That’s my one big suggestion. Don’t do it on the run at the end of a meeting. Make sure you have some time to sit and listen, because that’s going to be part of your job – to sit and listen.”

The number of people dying by suicide in the United States has risen by about 30 percent in the past two decades, the National Center for Health Statistics says.

Though there are different factors at play in each case, excessive stress is a known risk factor.



St. Clair County’s high suicide rate soared 13 percent above the rest of the state in the past decade, according to the County Health Department.

And Cuddeback said analysis 0f all 273 suicides committed in the county between 2006 and 2016 “was kind of shocking.”

“Your brotherhood was way over-represented,” she told the Labor Council. “Twenty percent of the 273 suicides were people who were laborers, who were carpenters, who were union people doing trades work.”

Students were second highest, at eight percent.

“You were so over-represented that we thought it was important that you had this information and knew how to turn to the person next to you if you’re worried about him.”


Cuddeback said certain myths about suicide hamper people’s responses and attempts at prevention. Some of those myths include the belief that:

• Suicide can’t be prevented – Studies of suicide attempt survivors show that care and communication could have stopped many attempts. “Most people say they wanted somebody to know, and they wanted somebody to stop them,” Cuddeback said. “It’s not inevitable. There’s something you can do.”

• The subject will just get angry – It can happen, but usually it doesn’t. “Most people don’t get mad,” she said. “What they get is sad. They realize somebody is looking at them and noticing them, and they don’t feel so alone. A few people get mad, but would you rather make somebody mad or try to convince yourself that you couldn’t have done anything when you have to attend the funeral?

“Would I rather be uncomfortable for a few minutes and ask this question and show my concern, or would I rather have to figure out how I live with it afterwards?”

• Only an expert can prevent a suicide Everyday people can be very effective if they simply express their care and concern, and often they are the only ones available to take action. “I’m telling you, there aren’t enough  experts in the world to do that,” Cuddeback said. “That’s why we all have to be experts.”

• Suicidal people won’t talk about it – In many cases, they actually give clues or will talk about their plans. “The great majority of them have given some clues or have said some things, but people didn’t know what to listen for and didn’t know what to do when they heard it.”

• People who talk about suicide won’t do it – Cuddeback said suicideal talk is considered one of the key warning indicators. “People talk about suicide, people do suicide,” she said.


Cuddeback listed some of the key warning signs:

• If they have tried before – or if one of their loved ones committed suicide.

• Use of alcohol or opiates – or other substances that can ease inhibitions.

• Legal or financial problems – especially contacts with law enforcement, an indication of impulsive behavior.

• Sudden behavior changes – including sudden happiness following depression.

• Depression – including feeling moody or hopeless.

• Risk taking and self-destructive acts.

“If somebody has ever attempted suicide before, consider them higher risk,” Cuddeback said. “If they showed they were going to do it once before, they are more at risk now. If they’ve had anybody in their life who has tried to die by suicide, that’s another thing we really look for.

“If somebody’s talking about death and wishing for it and making those comments, that needs to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up that much more.”

Sudden happiness is a greater concern than apathy, Cuddeback said. “When somebody’s really depressed and apathetic, sometimes they’ve got no energy to do anything. Sometimes, when they’re feeling better, it’s only because they’ve made a plan.”

Researchers say 90 percent of suicide victims are found to have some kind of psychiatric disorder that could have been diagnosed and treated. Friends and family can use that information, Cuddeback said, to persuade someone who may be contemplating suicide to get medical help instead.


Trades and industrial workers have special issues, including the effects of layoffs and job injuries, she said.

“For people in the trades, you’ve worked hard with your body for a long time and you hurt. If you have chronic pain and chronic injuries and you’re still trying to get along, it just puts you at risk,” Cuddeback said. “It just makes sense why that 20 percent in the county was people who have been doing this hard work for a long time.”

According to St. Clair County records, of the 20 percent of suicides among working people:

• 40 percent were men who were single or had never been married.

• 71 percent had been in contact with law enforcement.

• 64 percent had some kind of substance in their bodies.

• More than half died of gunshot wounds.

• Many were young, between ages 20 and 34.


Cuddeback is director of Heartlinks Grief Center in Belleville, which helps people cope with grief, and where the number of cases involving suicide led her to get involved with the Suicide Prevention Alliance.

She advocates for the “QPR” program, or the question, persuade, refer approach.

• Question people who may be in danger.

• Persuade them to seek help.

• Refer them to appropriate services.

Finally, Cuddelback said, be direct in dealing with someone who may be suicidal. Indirect approaches such as, “You doing OK?” can be misconstrued.

“I just tend to be a little more direct, and say, ‘I’m worried for you. Are you thinking of hurting yourself? Are you thinking of killing yourself?’

“Just ask, because people don’t expect you to ask, but when you do, there is almost always a relaxation. People will just tell you what’s going on. You don’t need to have an answer, and you don’t need to solve the problem. It is better that you don’t. It’s better that you just listen and offer some hope and then get them to some help.”


If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has trained operators who can connect you with services in your area. Start the process by calling 800-273-8255 or send a text to 741-741.

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Suicide in the U.S.

Men die by suicide 3.53 times more often than women.

• The U.S. averages 123 suicides a day, or one every 12 minutes.

• White males accounted for seven of 10 suicides in 2016.

• Firearms were used in 51 percent of suicides in 2016.

• The suicide rate is highest in middle-age, especially for white men.

• Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

• Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those 15-24 years old.

• For every 25 suicide attempts, one is successful.

Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention


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