The CDC reported this past week that life expectancy for Americans dropped last year. The U.S. stands out in this regard: no other developed country is experiencing higher mortality rates. Indeed, the gap in life expectancies between Japan, Spain, and many other countries and the United States is growing, which, obviously, is a very bad development for the U.S., both from a societal and economic standpoint.
Last year, 70,237 deaths were attributed to drug overdoses in the U.S. West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania had the three highest age-adjusted rates of fatal overdoses. Most drug overdoses are unintentional. But not all.
Suicides overall were up by 3.7 percent in 2017. Since 1999, the national suicide rate has increased by 33 percent! A particularly disturbing trend is the increase in suicides among teenagers and young adults. And among farmers. The country’s most rural counties had suicide rates almost twice as high as those for the most urban counties.
These are not signs of a healthy society; rather, they are signs of social decay.
You’d think this would spur some serious national reflection. But it hasn’t. Instead, it has precipitated a mean-spirited reaction whereby the country doubled down on failing policies, values, and priorities. Donald Trump is Exhibit A.
But there are other manifestations of our dysfunction that are equally troubling, including mass murders (our schools have become killing grounds), worker exploitation, widespread underemployment, gross economic inequities (a big part of the problem that is largely ignored and goes unaddressed), lack of social mobility, high debt burdens, broad resentment, alienation and shallow or nonexistent personal networks, widespread insecurity and feelings of compulsion, incredibly high rates of incarceration, and high incidences of psychological problems (e.g., Americans take far more antidepressants than anyone else).
It’s impossible to know how all of this will play out over the long term, Vera. What kind of country will await you when you reach the age of majority? I’m not sure. But it’s quite possible your world will look very different from the one that awaited me when I graduated from high school.
No one can insulate you from the problems of the country. But we can prepare you. By helping you learn and discover. Fostering your curiosity. Helping you to acquire the skills and capabilities to navigate ambiguity and a hostile world. And by not perpetrating illusions or mindlessly supporting many of the deeply flawed ideas and narratives that have been eroding our country’s social and moral fabric. And, perhaps most of all, by loving you unconditionally and providing you with a strong and stable family.
The rest will be up to you. Just as it was with everyone who came before you. And will be with everyone who will follow you.
The good news, you can be great. In the end, that’s what great looks like: Life flourishing within the human body, mind, and soul. People relishing the gift of life, in peace, joy, and love.