Suicide: why are so many dying of despair?

We don’t subscribe to print publications in our house (despite the best efforts of the New Zealand Herald to get us hooked with their free “hit” of six weeks’ free newspapers – we tried it once but it wasn’t worth the numerous letters and phone calls we received afterwards trying to convince us to purchase a subscription).

Like many people of my generation, I read the newspapers and magazines I wish to read online. If it sits behind a paywall (The Times, for example) then I don’t read it.

Actually, I tell a lie. There is one publication that we do subscribe to – First Things – a magazine from the United States which deals with religion and the public sphere.

It is also available online, but I only really read it in hard copy – there is still something about the tangible, crinkly, foldable, rollable magazine that cannot be replicated on a screen.

Anyway, after a two-month US summer hiatus, I was pleased to receive the September issue of the publication last week in my letter box.

I have a set order in which I read its contents, and the large articles I leave until last. So it was only a couple of days ago that I read the lead essay, entitled “Dying of Despair”.

It was written by Aaron Kheriaty, an Associate Professor of psychiatry and director of the Medical Ethics Program at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine.

It details the disturbing trend in the USA of increased suicide and drug related deaths, such that, for the first time since the 1930s, overall life expectancy in the USA has begun to decline.

(We have detailed this in a number of posts over the last few months: herehere and here.)

Kheriaty notes that Angus Deaton, a Princeton economist who won the Nobel Prize for work on the intricacies of measuring human wellbeing, has called the increasing numbers of Americans dying from alcohol, drugs and suicide, “deaths of despair”.

Linked to this, depression is now the most common serious mental or medical health disorder in the USA (and the leading cause of disability worldwide).  Continue reading



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News category: Analysis and Comment.

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