Consider this- “Deaths of Despair”

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I believe that one of the true crisis of our time is the lack of reflection. For the first time in thousands of years, those who are in important roles of leadership are, for the most part, not spending time considering, in-depth, the social, technological and economic world we live in. They have fallen into the pattern of the day of quick sound bites and headlines.

What’s the risk? Reflection has three distinct values:

  • Deeper understanding of the fundamentals that are creating the circumstances we are experiencing
  • Multiple perspectives bringing out not-before considered options for solutions to challenges
  • Realization of the broad impact of decisions because of the interconnectedness of everything

Without reflection, we move to a transactional orientation to our lives. While we say relationships are important, the key indicators show isolationism of ourselves, our instigations and our county.  We end up with a world that is uncaring of others and the gap between those who have and those who don’t increases.

This is a continuation of a conversation I’ve had in this space many times and will. I chose to revisit this today because of news report summarizing a paper by two noted Princeton economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton.

In 2015, Case and Deaton wrote a paper bringing our attention to the surge in mortality rates of white middle-age non-Hispanic men without a college degree. Now, they are focusing on what they call the “deaths of despair” to this same group. They define deaths of despair as either quick deaths by suicide or slower self-inflicted deaths by alcohol or drug overuse.

Their assessment is that the primary issue isn’t economic. For if it was, African American and Hispanic men should have the same high rates of “deaths of despair” and they don’t. So, what’s going on? We know that research isn’t perfect so I’ll offer my assessments from reading report. I encourage you to do the same so you can draw your own conclusions.

There are several social factors, which I hadn’t thought about, they point to as having the potential to underlying causes for the increase in mortality rates and dramatic increase in “deaths of despair”. Before I give you the particulars, it’s important to remember one of the key components of our humanness. We want to belong. The socio-economic group we are referring to have seen their traditional support network for belonging collapsing.

In the past, those in manufacturing often belonged to unions. It was not uncommon for these workers to have multiple generations working in well-paying jobs at the same company. No more. Some of the fallouts of this shift are higher rates of divorce, at-risk health and loneliness.

Our religious institutions helped bolster the sense of belonging to this group. Over the past twenty years, while we haven’t seen a decline in participation rates at churches, we have seen change in their makeup. Legacy religious such as a Catholicism and main-stream Protestantism have declined. They have been supplanted by “seeking” churches. These churches fundamentals focus on the individual and their relationship with God than the community they are part of.

Divorce is also a critical issue with this age group. It is speculated that the lower income and pervious stress from jobs have contributed to an increasing divorce rate. This is coupled with declining health and well-being.

The report’s authors also noted that this trend appears to be a U.S. phenomenon. Mortality rates for this group to be declining by a significant rate in Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan.

Why is this important to us to reflect upon? When you have a contrary social trend, it’s highly probable it will have a disproportionate impact. For instance, these underlying issues and the mood of this segment of the population may have been a contributing factor in the most recent presidential election.

I encourage you to take some time to read from multiple viewpoints about what’s happening in our society. Reflect on what you find and use this reflection to guide your decisions.

 

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