Suicide Rates Hit 50 Year High, But Why?
Suicide Rates Hit 50 Year High, But Why?
The news out from the CDC is not good. Suicide rates are at a all-new high, and no one seems to know what to do with the new information.
The CDC says that suicides and drug overdoses have driven the life expectancy in the United States down.
Overall, there were more than 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, or nearly 70,000 more than the previous year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. It was the most deaths in a single year since the government began counting more than a century ago.
The increase partly reflects the nation’s growing and aging population. But it’s deaths in younger age groups — particularly middle-aged people — that have had the largest impact on calculations of life expectancy, experts said.
“These sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, said in a statement.
The suicide death rate last year was the highest it’s been in at least 50 years, according to U.S. government records. There were more than 47,000 suicides, up from a little under 45,000 the year before.
The nation is in the longest period of a generally declining life expectancy since the late 1910s, when World War I and the worst flu pandemic in modern history combined to kill nearly 1 million Americans. Life expectancy in 1918 was 39.
Aside from that, “we’ve never really seen anything like this,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees CDC death statistics.
In the nation’s 10 leading causes of death, only the cancer death rate fell in 2017. Meanwhile, there were increases in seven others — suicide, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, flu/pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries.
An underlying factor is that the death rate for heart disease — the nation’s No. 1 killer — has stopped falling. In years past, declines in heart disease deaths were enough to offset increases in some other kinds of death, but no longer, Anderson said.
So, what is going on?
CDC officials did not speculate about what’s behind declining life expectancy, but Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, sees a sense of hopelessness.
Financial struggles, a widening income gap and divisive politics are all casting a pall over many Americans, he suggested. “I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide,” he said.
VoteCast, a wide-ranging survey of the electorate conducted by The Associated Press, found voters expressing pessimistic views about the future: About half of voters nationwide said they expect life in America for the next generation to be worse than it is today. Nearly a quarter said life would be better and about as many said it would be the same. VoteCast surveyed more than 115,000 voters nationwide as Americans cast ballots in this year’s midterm elections.
Drug overdose deaths also continued to climb, surpassing 70,000 last year, in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history. The death rate rose 10 percent from the previous year, smaller than the 21 percent jump seen between 2016 and 2017.
That’s not quite cause for celebration, said Dr. John Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University.
“Maybe it’s starting to slow down, but it hasn’t turned around yet,” Rowe said. “I think it will take several years.”
Accidental drug overdoses account for more than a third of the unintentional injury deaths, and intentional drug overdoses account for about a tenth of the suicides, said Dr. Holly Hedegaard, a CDC injury researcher.
Now, the drug overdose issue – especially with the dangerous rise of fentanyl, as pointed out by the CDC -is going to continue to be a problem so long as local governments continue to tolerate drug use to the point of allowing “safe spaces” for people to abuse drugs. Also rising – death from flu and pneumonia, which can easily kill the young, the old, and the medically fragile.
But what do we do about suicide? (The CDC notes the use of guns in suicide, but it is not the focus of their press release.) Is it really all about a “sense of hopelessness,” as speculated?
Well, it is just a speculation. But let’s just look at the news around us. People are prioritizing their political protest over relationships. Everyone wants what they want, even if it won’t make them healthier or happier. Some women are conflicted about having children. I think the feeling of hopelessness may be self-inflicted, and the real reason may be a rising sense of selfishness.
Social media has exacerbated the attention-seeking part of the human psyche to dangerous levels (you can be famous on YouTube/Instagram/Twitter by “going viral” within a matter of minutes – and if not famous, infamous). We no longer know how to talk to people face-to-face, we just hide behind computer or phone screens to communicate. The younger generation has not learned how to properly handle powerful emotions, because their parents made every effort to make life fair and safe. Without personal adversity to overcome, there can be no real personal achievement. Is this what has happened to us?
There are so many other factors that should be considered in why people feel hopeless, and I’m sure that every single person reading this has an opinion on what has changed so greatly in American life as to lead to this result. But here we are, on the edge of throwing ourselves into the Christmas season, and a time of year when people are supposed to draw together. It’s also the time of year where people become keenly aware of the distances between us (though it is a myth that more suicides happen during the holiday season).
Try, if you are able, to bridge the distances. You never know what it might mean to someone.
Featured image via Pixabay