Dr. Helen

Why are middle-aged whites dying at such high rates?

That is the question we should be asking after the recent studies and articles showing an alarming increase in the suicides of middle-aged whites:

The rise occurred primarily among men and women between 45 and 54 with no more than a high-school education. But deaths from those causes also rose for better-educated middle-aged whites as well as whites in other age groups, according to the study. Death rates are defined in the study as the number of deaths per 100,000 people for each age cohort.

Ms. Case and Mr. Deaton found that mortality rose half a percent annually for whites aged 45 to 54 between 1999 and 2013, after declining 2% a year on average between 1978 and 1998. Had mortality continued to decline at that rate, 488,500 deaths would have been avoided between 1999 and 2013, they said…

Why middle-aged whites have been more affected than other groups isn’t entirely clear and needs more study, the authors and other experts said.

Ms. Case and Mr. Deaton found in health-survey data from the CDC that middle-aged whites have increasingly reported mental-health problems and difficulties dealing with daily life. One in three reported chronic pain between 2011 and 2013.

Those increases in mental-health and musculoskeletal problems may “explain some of the recent otherwise puzzling decrease in labor-force participation in the United States, particularly among women,” the authors said. Participation in the labor force has fallen since 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Economic stress may play a role in substance abuse by middle-aged white people, according to the study.

I find the increase in musculoskeletal problems among whites interesting. Why is there an increase? I wonder if whites with no more than a high school education are doing more manual labor type jobs that cause them health problems in mid-life. The pain may be excruciating and lead to lack of ability to work and disability at a time when they need to be earning money for their later years. Some people without resources may see suicide as the only option. Of course, add to this male depression over cultural, legal and family issues and we have a recipe for increased suicide. It is a vicious cycle and one that needs to be addressed without bias, discrimination and stupid platitudes about why whites are taking their own lives.