US life expectancy (LE) has not kept pace with that of other wealthy countries and is now decreasing.
The above lead is from a JAMA study dated November 2019. (1) It is a sobering and scary fact. To put this in perspective, the last time we had a multi-year, consecutive decrease in LE was over 100 years ago with the 1918 flu epidemic.
Most Americans believe that life expectancy is associated with occurrences of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and infectious diseases. Yet, the disturbing statistics from the 2019 study directly correlate the decrease in LE with a decline in mental health.
The authors reviewed life expectancy data for 1959-2016 and cause-specific mortality rates for 1999-2017, which were obtained from the US Mortality Database and CDC WONDER, respectively. The analysis focused on midlife deaths (ages 25-64 years), stratified by sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geography (including all 50 states). They found an alarming trend- "By 2014, midlife mortality was increasing across all racial groups, caused by drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, suicides..." These three leading causes of death are directly associated with the decline of mental health in the midlife era of Americans. Alarmingly, within this group, the most significant increase in mortality occurred in the subset of people aged 25-34.
Between 1999 and 2017, midlife mortality from alcoholic liver disease increased by more than 40%, accidental drug overdoses increased by over 500%, and suicide rates increased by almost 38%. Even scarier is the greater than 113% relative increase in suicides in the 5-14-year-old range. (2)
This triad, accidental drug overdoses, alcohol related disease, and suicide, is referred to as "deaths of despair" by one research group, and has seen an ever-increasing rise over the past two decades, beginning in the 1990s.(3) Personally, I see it in my clinic and hospital practice on a nearly daily basis. I often recommend counseling to my patients who present with one or more of the triad leading them to seek medical help. I let them know that "being human is hard" and there are professionals out there trained to help guide you through the tough stretches of life we all face. Many people see getting counseling as a sign of weakness, but I emphatically correct them and let them know that seeking help is actually a sign of strength.
This recent study shines a light on the interconnectedness of mental health, spiritual health, and physical health on one's longevity and quality of life. So, if you or someone you know is suffering from one of the above-mentioned triad leading to "deaths of despair", please, please, please seek counseling or encourage the ones you love to seek counseling. YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT.
Let 2020 be the year to improve mental health in America, one person at a time beginning with you or someone you love!
(1) Woolf SH, Schoomaker H. Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates in the United States, 1959-2017. JAMA. 2019;322(20):1996–2016. doi:https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2019.16932