The decline in America’s overall life expectancy has garnered much attention amongst pundits recently, for good reason; that a society with as much wealth as the U.S. is suffering from declines in life expectancy is shocking, to say the least.
So, what is driving it, and what can we do to reverse it?
There are two reasons for this decline. First, the opioid epidemic, which has killed over a hundred thousand Americans in the past few years, has raged through much of the country. Over seventy thousand died in 2017 alone. Even if 2018’s numbers do not exceed that, the death rates will remain at a record level.
Second, there is a growing epidemic of people taking their own lives. Particularly in rural areas, suicide and self-harm are skyrocketing.
Both opioid addiction and the mental disorders which often lead people to take their own lives are difficult to treat, mainly because of stigma and a chronic lack of resources, particularly in the affected areas. Simply put, mental health and addiction services are not accessible to the parts of the United States most affected by these crises.
Guns are another aspect of the problem, as far as suicide is concerned.
It is far easier to take one’s own life with a gun than with most other methods. This leads to a higher rate of suicides overall.
For the opioid epidemic, the problem is compounded by the rise of illegal fentanyl. Fentanyl is far stronger than either heroin or prescription opioids, making it easier to overdose on.
The result is that more people die of overdoses, especially given the fact that addiction leads one to consume more and more of a particular drug. So, what can be done?
First, mental health and addiction services need to be widely available throughout the U.S., and especially in the areas most affected. These services must be provided with a minimum of stigma attached.
We need to abandon the doctrine of “rock bottom” in regards to addiction.
Let me be clear: “rock bottom” in the context of the opioid epidemic means death. And that cannot be allowed to continue.
To reduce the suicide rate, it’s necessary to provide better mental health services. That means adequate psychological and psychiatric help for people affected by mental illness.
If we do those things, our country can make progress against the opioid and suicide epidemics. It is not a silver bullet, but it is a start.
And given where we are right now, a start alone would be a significant improvement.
Feature photo by Mansoor Ahmad | MSU Reporter.