America spends more on health care than any other country. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the nation spent $3.3 trillion — or $10,348 per citizen — in 2016. Of course, one would assume these expenditures would make us one of the healthiest countries on the planet, but when it comes to our average life expectancy, that’s not the case.
In fact, according to three new reports published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average life expectancy declined… for the second time in three years. But that isn’t the most disturbing part. According to the report, the reason for the decline was the rapidly increasing rates of death from suicide and drug overdoses.
CDC Director Robert Redfield described this trend as “troubling.”
“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” Redfield said in a statement.
More than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to the CDC — a 10 percent increase from 2016 — and suicide remained the 10th-leading cause of death, though suicide rates were significantly higher in 2017 compared with 1999 (particularly among males).
Dr. Kathryn McHugh of Harvard Medical School told NPR this is particularly alarming because it means some are dying young. Very young. “We’re seeing the drop in life expectancy not because we’re hitting a cap [for] people in their 80s. We’re seeing a drop in life expectancy because people are dying in their 20s [and] 30s,” McHugh said. And that needs to change. “We need to start to see this rate going down.”
The good news is the CDC stated they remain “committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health” and reverse these trends. However, as Redfield noted, the government-funded organization can not fix these issues alone. “We must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier lives,” Redfield said.
And Redfield’s right. We can reduce overdoses and suicides by learning about them. By talking about them. And by having tough and uncomfortable conversations with our friends, our family, our children and our peers.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org or text “START” to 741-741 to immediately speak to a trained counselor at Crisis Text Line. And if you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, substance abuse and/or mental health issues, please contact SAMHSA’s national helpline at 1-800-662-4357.