American Decline

Financial despair, addiction and the rise of suicide in white America

By in Butte, Montana, The Guardian

The death rate for white Americans aged 45 to 54 has risen sharply since 1999, but Montana officials wrestle to explain why the state has the highest rate of suicide in the US at nearly twice the national average – and it’s rising.

Kevin Lowney lies awake some nights wondering if he should kill himself.

“I am in such pain every night, suicide has on a regular basis crossed my mind just simply to ease the pain. If I did not have responsibilities, especially for my youngest daughter who has problems,” he said.

The 56-year-old former salesman’s struggle with chronic pain is bound up with an array of other issues – medical debts, impoverishment and the prospect of a bleak retirement – contributing to growing numbers of suicides in the US and helping drive a sharp and unusual increase in the mortality rate for middle-aged white Americans in recent years alongside premature deaths from alcohol and drugs.

A study released late last year by two Princeton academics, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who won the 2014 Nobel prize for economics, revealed that the death rate for white Americans aged 45 to 54 has risen sharply since 1999 after declining for decades. The increase, by 20% over the 14 years to 2013, represents about half a million lives cut short.

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