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Since 2014, there has been a noticeable decrease in American life expectancy. A large factor in this decline is called the disease of despair. This phenomenon displays the connection between increased hopelessness and depression, suicide/suicidal thoughts, and alcohol-related diseases. The term is defined as, “diagnoses related to alcohol misuse, substance misuse, and suicide ideation and behaviors,” according to the medical journal BMJ Open. Despair can be contained in several categories, ranging from the emotional despair of loneliness, anxiety, a loss of faith in self, mankind or a higher power, loss of finances or job opportunities, and a general feeling of lack, despair is not uncommon for many Americans.
Despite the focal point of studies surrounding the disease of despair, there are additional factors that make the disease of despair concerning. The term death of despair has been linked to such conditions due to the suicidal tendencies individuals suffering from diseases of despair often have. The onset and prevalence of COVID-19 have contributed to increases in deaths of despair and diseases of despair-based substance use disorders. Challenges in facing the uncertainty of financial instability, depression, and/or individuals left hopeless amidst restrictions from the virus, or those dying from the virus. As a result, increases in addiction due to challenging mental health states have been more common.
Much study has occurred to decipher if diseases of despair contribute to mortality, substance abuse, and challenging mental health states. The common denominator has yielded troubling findings. The “diseases of despair” have contributed to a “68% increase” diagnosis in Americans over the course of 9 years. In addition to the disease of despair prognosis spikes, the BMJ journal cited 58.5% of the diagnosed population included men, with 55 to 74 as the primary age range.
According to another source, men aged 35 to 77 were the main focal groups affiliated with the disease of despair. Similarly, women aged 18 to 34, and 55 to 74 were most associated with the condition. Out of the 150,000 Americans who died from alcohol and drug-induced fatalities and suicides in 2017, nearly 48,000 resulted from suicide. Lastly, suicide-related thoughts and general deaths of despair conditions, often consequential of substance abuse-related health problems (liver disease, cirrhosis) occurred in middle-aged individuals. Much of this was due to economic insecurity-related despair.
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While individuals may not necessarily always have suicidal actions they choose to take, the grief one suffers from feelings of hopelessness, depression, and general grief can cause some to believe substances like alcohol or Opioids, for example, can improve matters. Unfortunately, such habits make matters worse, creating dependencies and addictions, which can further depression. Furthermore, the combination of toxic chemicals and the state of despair can easily contribute to suicidal ideation, self-harm, and death.
The onslaught on America’s Opioid crisis remains present in diseases and deaths of despair; fortunately, numbers are decreasing in Opioid abuse, but still remain high. Starting from the intention to ease chronic pain, many patients have found themselves addicted to the euphoria potent Opioids create. As a result, some may increase the dosage, seeking to use the chemical or chemicals to relieve depression, anxiety, or irritability.
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Being able to recognize signs of addiction, suicide. and self-harm, especially in relation to diseases of despair may help someone struggling. According to the science news website Live Science, signs of suicide include, but are not limited to:
In the case of addiction signs, general things to look out for can include:
If or a loved one suffers suicide ideation or has suicidal tendencies, know there is help. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If addiction is included in the equation, consider rehab to provide detox, medications, and one-on-one counseling for substance abuse.
Krystina Murray has received a B.A. in English at Georgia State University, has over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience, and over 15 years of overall writing experience. She enjoys traveling, fitness, crafting, and spreading awareness of addiction recovery to help people transform their lives.