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Foss: Hope for a happier year

Foss: Hope for a happier year

Foss: Hope for a happier year
Photographer: Shutterstock

I've always been something of a worrier. 

But it wasn't until I became a parent, in January of 2018, that I really understood what it meant to worry. 

Mainly, I worried that I would somehow fail to protect my son, that some sort of tragedy would befall him. 

Many of my worries were prompted by the news -- grim headlines about drug addiction and rising suicide rates, drunk driving accidents and random acts of violence. 

Most disturbing of all were the reports, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that life expectancy in America declined for the third year in a row in 2017 -- a troubling development in a country of great wealth and resources. 

My hope for 2019 is that we, as a society, do more to address a serious public health problem that has mostly flown under the radar. 

Reversing the decline in life expectancy and the unhappiness seemingly at the root of it must become a priority if we care about ensuring a bright future for our children. 

According to the CDC, the decline in life expectancy is driven by drug overdoses and suicides -- what some have termed deaths of despair. 

"Young people are being hit especially hard," an article on the trend noted on the website for The Atlantic magazine. "Death rates increased by nearly 3 percent for people aged 25 to 34, and by 1.6 percent for Americans aged 35 to 44." 

I'll admit that I've found it difficult to relate to the despair that underlies such statistics. 

The past year has been full of joy for me, largely because of my son, who has enabled me to once again see the world as a place of wonder and possibility. 

It's been a treat to introduce him to the beauty in our midst - to take him hiking in the mountains or to a sandy beach - and to everyday pleasures such as play, books and music. The delight he takes in discovering the world is contagious. 

I've heard various theories as to why more people are taking their own lives or succumbing to addiction, but one thing seems clear: For too many people, the world is a place of struggle, hopelessness and, yes, despair. 

Between 1999 and 2017, the age-adjusted suicide rate increased 33 percent, from 10.5 deaths per 100,000 to 15 deaths per 100,000, according to the CDC. 

I don't know what is causing this upward swing, although there are a number of possibilities. 

The research indicates that suicide is usually related to problems with jobs, finances, substance abuse or relationships, and that mental health is often a factor. 

Some have wondered whether our busy pace of life, combined with the isolation and loneliness experienced by many adults, is also a cause. 

As we close the door on 2018, we should consider what we can do to make the world a place where our friends, family and neighbors can truly embrace living, and all the joy that comes with it. 

If we do this, it might not be too long before the CDC annual report on life expectancy contains good news, rather than bad. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 


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