Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Suicide and drug overdoses, of which rural people are at more risk, help decrease average life expectancy in the U.S.

Age-adjusted suicide rates by county urbanization level. (CDC chart; click on the image to enlarge it)
An increase in suicide and drug overdoses, of which rural areas have more than their share, has pulled down life expectancy in the United States. "Overall, there were more than 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, or nearly 70,000 more than the previous year, the federal 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," Mike Stobbe reports for The Associated Press.

The U.S. saw more than 47,000 suicides last year, making for the highest rate in at least 50 years, Stobbe reports. The rate was higher at all levels of urbanization in 2017 than it was in 1999, but it increased more in rural areas, and the more rural a person, the higher their risk for suicide. The age-adjusted suicide rate for the most rural counties in 2017 was 53 percent higher than the rate in 1999, according to the CDC figures. The age-adjusted suicide rate for the most rural counties was 1.4 times the rate for the most urban counties in 1999; in 2017 it increased to 1.8 times the rate.

What's causing the increase in suicides and drug overdoses? Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, told Stobbe that financial struggles, a widening income gap and divisive politics are driving Americans to despair: "I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless . . . That leads to drug use; it leads potentially to suicide."

A survey of more than 115,000 voters conducted by AP buttresses Dietz's opinion: "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," Stobbe reports.

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