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Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds


Stashed in: Economics!, Science!, Awesome, Death, Drugs!, America!, America, Depression, Health Studies, The South

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BLOCKBUSTER finding from two Princeton economists, one of whom just won the Nobel Prize. Since 1999, the death rate for poorly-educated white Americans aged 45 - 54 from suicide, alcohol, and drug abuse has risen an incredible amount while everyone else's has been falling. Amazeballs methodological footnote: all of this data was in plain view in government statistics and prestigious publications... but because the age cutoff was often right at 50, the data got broken in half in a way that prevented researchers from seeing the magnitude of the issue.

Since most of these premature deaths were caused not by disease but by suicide, alcohol, and drug abuse, can we draw the conclusion that they were the result from the unhappiness these men experienced with where they found themselves in life professionally and personally?

It wasn't just men, it was men AND women.

I haven't been able to read the original paper yet but I know from other studies that the combination of low education, reported neuromuscular pain, and reduced income is very characteristic of rural areas of America such as Appalachia. It's a touchy subject, but there is some evidence that the combination is associated with extremely high rates of unemployment and statistically unlikely levels of disability payments. Not to put too fine a point on it, if you're a poorly educated person in a rural area, there may be few ways to make a living other than going on disability.

One of the fascinating points in this and other studies is that doctors are far MORE likely to prescribe opioids to white patients, and to "sponsor" their applications for disability payments, than those of other races who report the same symptoms. That's right: even when it comes to developing an addiction to painkillers, white people have an advantage!

There is quite a bit of evidence that middle-aged people suffer the highest rate of depression:

http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/data_stats/depression.htm

which anecdotally is attributed to "Is that all there is?" syndrome. I would not know personally, but I could imagine that this type of existential crisis might be worse for people who grew up believing they would have a much better outcome than they ended up getting.

I missed that it was women too. Thanks for pointing that out. 

Here's the paper: 

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/10/29/1518393112.abstract.html

You're right that it's a touchy area, which makes it difficult to study.

I didn't realize that doctors are more likely to prescribe opioids and sponsor disability for these people, which probably contributes to their likelihood toward depression and downward decline.

I just didn't realize these existential crises are happening on such a massive scale. 

I had OPEN BRAIN SURGERY and they said I could only qualify for a few weeks of disability before the bureaucracy would try to cut me off. My doctors are in Palo Alto and have a very wealthy clientele, so they weren't at all enthused about having to spend their time to fight for me. But based on that experience I think if your doctor won't fight on your behalf it is hard to get disability.

Also... I don't think most healthy, happy people would enjoy being prescribed high levels of opioids. They are a drug that takes hold of depressed people. I asked to be taken off them as soon as I got out of the hospital because they cause HORRIBLE digestive issues and don't actually do much for head pain. I had a friend who weaned himself off them before he died of cancer-based polyneuropathy. When you have someone dying with tumors pressing on his spine and he STILL doesn't want opioids... you know they are awful.

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