A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that a large segment of the US population has experienced a sharp spike in the death rate since 1999. Moreover, the key causes of those increased deaths are seemingly self-imposed: alcohol, drugs, and suicide.
This increasingly at-risk group is middle-aged white people.
Prior to 1999 the mortality rate for this population was decreasing, reflecting decades of progress regarding death from heart disease, stroke, and cancer. But those days are over. This mortality turnaround is unique to the United State; no other affluent country saw a similar reversal.
Although all education groups saw increases in mortality from suicide and poisonings, those with less education saw the most marked increases. The highest death rates are hitting white people aged 45-54 who either didn’t graduate high school or only got as far as a high school diploma. There is also a connection to increased heroin and prescription opioid overdoses in that age group.
Self-reported declines in health, mental health, and ability to conduct activities of daily living, and increases in chronic pain and inability to work, as well as deterioration in liver function, all point to one thing: there is widespread and growing addiction and mental illness in this population.
Mental Health Reform
The American Psychiatric Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, and The American Psychological Association have joined the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems and national editorial boards urging Congress to move on mental health reform. These influential organizations are asking members to work together on a comprehensive law that will put mental health care on the same level as other serious medical illnesses in practice rather than just in theory or law.
Implementation of parity is essential for the millions of people in our country who struggle with addictions and disorders. Only when this state of fairness is achieved will lay people, insurers and even medical professionals begin to view addiction and depression as medical illnesses rather than an issue of poor moral character or weakness.
These are not “bad” people; these are people with terrible and potentially fatal illnesses who deserve understanding, respect, and most important, quality care.