We’re Killing Ourselves…and It Doesn’t Have to Be that Way

Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans…” says a headline in the New York Times.

Wait, what?

In an age when advances in health care and rising awareness of the importance of healthier eating and fitness are extending life, middle-aged Americans are dying more frequently?

Here’s why:

…rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse:alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.

The reporter says the trend is from a dynamic that has been:

puzzling demographers in recent years: the declining health and fortunes of poorly educated American whites. In middle age, they are dying at such a high rate that they are increasing the death rate for the entire group of middle-aged white Americans.

Put more bluntly:

“Wow,” said Samuel Preston, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on mortality trends and the health of populations, who was not involved in the research. “This is a vivid indication that something is awry in these American households.”

A “vivid indication” indeed. While experts puzzle at the trend, let’s get real. We know those big killers of heart disease and diabetes lurk across our populace because as a society we eat like shit and aren’t active enough in our daily lives. That becomes more of an acute problem as you go down the socio-economic ladder as raw realities of life result in less healthy eating and less activity.

So, why are people also drinking themselves to death, wrecking their bodies with drugs, and killing themselves?

Because they hate their fucking lives.

Why do they hate their lives?

Because they’re treading water. They’re too often trapped in jobs they don’t like, travelling too long to get there (which means less time for meal prep and being active), to pay for a life they can barely keep up with…and every reader with kids has probably been through that immensely stressful phase in life. On the upper-income side, you throw in the stress of constantly connected white collar jobs. On the lower-income side, the financial stress of modern life coupled with flat or declining real wages and…BAM…it’s not an environment prone to produce strong emotional and mental health.

Thus, the vodka, heroin, and pills.

A perfect example that popped into my Facebook feed while working on this post:

Took me almost 3 hours to get to work today because of traffic. Literally as soon as I turn the ignition off, my phone rings. It’s school calling to tell me that [my daughter] has a fever and I need to pick her up. Luckily it only took me 45 minutes to get back to [her school]. Needless to say I will be working from home for the rest of the week.

I anonymized that because this person’s life might be perfectly pleasant, but it’s an example of sort of chaotic ingredients that are all too present in our constantly connected, always moving lives.

And it’s fucking killing us.

II think it’s zero coincidence I encountered this article as well on my Facebook feed recently: “Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family.” My friend who posted it extracted this quote:

“…while family structure seems to have permanently changed, public policy, workplace structure and mores have not seemed to adjust to a norm in which both parents work.”

Yep.

So.

Is life killing you? Maybe only slowly…but definitely surely?

It’s time to do something different. Maybe radically different.

That’s scary.

But isn’t scary that better than a slow, miserable, self-inflicted death?

I read this article on things changing in society recently. It talked about increasing rejection of traditional corporate culture…and a whole slew of other paradigms that have been societal norms for decades, but aren’t serving us now. Example: my daughter is in online high school today exactly because of #8 in the article. That system wasn’t serving her, so we found a better way.

With that in mind, what could stop your life from killing you?

And what’s stopping you from taking the leap to make that happen?

UPDATE: And maybe not only taking the leap to make that happen for you, what can you do to support someone else in taking that leap? I posted this splendid Chris Christie riff on compassion for the addicted on Facebook recently. It’s a powerful reminder of the importance of compassion and support in helping people get to a better place in life.

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