If you were home last week or this week, the television screen has lit up with some of the most rancorous debate I have seen in my lifetime. This is saying something because I was around for the summer of 1968 when the world watched assassins, protesters and rioters really start to take America apart. At that time, 300 young Americans were dying each week in Vietnam. The Chicago police were dragging delegates off the floor of the Democratic Convention.
These are also challenging times. We are afflicted with a pandemic and it has inflicted some serious economic damage. We can have political views; we should have political views, but we are still a long way from America run by fascists or anarchists. The anger and invective I have heard in the last 10 days seems extreme on both ends. But to me, it masks a far deeper set of problems, which I have heard nothing about. This goes to the issue of family life in 21st century America. Permit me to offer some data about issues our political leaders are not discussing.
The drug overdose data is harrowing enough. In family law, we are seeing substance dependence cut with equal vigor into families at all economic levels, rich and poor. As is always the case, wealthier people have more tools to fight addiction. Nevertheless, addiction, like the coronavirus, is a tricky thing. You think it is under control and find it is not.
The drug problem can be explained. Science has made medication extremely effective at mitigating pain. Unfortunately, those same medications are also highly addictive. Science has also made illegal narcotics more effective at bringing the high, but also accelerating the crash.
Another statistic is far more challenging to explain. It is what has happened with suicide rates. The top bar of the chart is the total number of deaths. The second bar is male suicide rates. The bottom is for women. Before the health catastrophe of this spring, we already passed 47,000 for 2019, half-involving firearms. We are told that 2020 is going to be far worse as we have many people depressed by both the pandemic and the economic consequence.
As if this is not sad enough, a big part of the increase is actually death among children. The number of self-inflicted child deaths has risen 56% since 2000. I am hearing lots of lofty language from both political parties about preserving and improving America for our kids. The truth is that suicide is the second leading cause of death among that age group. That speaks volumes about their optimism. We are hearing many speeches about how horrid life will be if one party controls the Congress or the White House. But look at the chart above from 1999 to 2016. Eight years of Republican leadership, eight years of Democratic leadership, and now four years of resumed Republican dominance. The trend of death is the same, and it is relentless.
Perhaps this could be explained by life events. I think not. Here are some demographic data to prove the point.
|S&P 500 Index||1350-1400||3500||2.5 times greater|
|Life Expectancy||77||79||+2 years|
We are living longer, our financial markets are far healthier and unemployment declined steadily from 2009 until this March. Yet, the suicide trend shows no real response to that happy news.
In 1968, the battlefield was in Southeast Asia and in the streets of our cities and college campuses. We are seeing some of that today as well. I suggest this data demonstrate that the real battle of 2020 is going on inside our homes. That is where addiction takes root and that is where adults and children decide that life in not worth living. There are many great discussions to be had about racism, the economy and the climate. However, the data presented suggests that we need to find out what is wrong inside our homes that makes us unhappy enough to decide that life is not worth living under either political party’s leadership.
While writing this I learned that during a protest over a police shooting in Wisconsin last evening, a 17 year old decided he would shoot at protestors; killing two.
I have strong views about this election. Yet, what concerns me more is that partisan rancor and hatred are filling our minds and depressing our kids. I join with people in both parties in wanting to create a better world. I suggest that a better world is one that begins with less invective and hyperbole and more civility and understanding. If our people are addicted to drugs or worse yet, dead from self-inflicted wounds, it matters little what party or ideology is in charge.
Long ago Samuel Johnson wrote, “To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labor tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution.” If we are to enjoy our time on this planet, it would seem that we need to focus a bit more on what is really bothering us and a bit less on whether we need to cancel student debt or defund the police.
N.B. A couple of additions since this was published. On the evening of August 27, the topic of drug deaths was mentioned at the Republican Convention. It was discussed in the context of resolution when drug related deaths grew 4.6% in 2019 to 71,000. There were 47,000 suicides in 2018 the most recent data available. The data in the charts stops with 2016.