Stress-related deaths among Virginia’s white population are increasing, according to a new Virginia Commonwealth University report. Unintentional drug overdoses, suicides, alcoholic liver disease, and alcohol poisonings are killing white Virginians aged 25-to-54 years at increasing rates: The rate of stress-related deaths among middle-aged whites increased 83 percent between 1995 and 2014.
“The alarming rise in death rates from drug overdoses, alcoholism, and suicides demands action,” said Center on Society and Health Director Steven Woolf, M.D., professor at VCU School of Medicine.
The report also discusses the increasing death rates from liver cancer, viral hepatitis, and some forms of heart disease. Perhaps the study’s most dramatic finding: a 331% increase in death rates from unintentional drug overdoses.
The study examined eight regions of Virginia, including 95 counties and 38 independent cities, finding increased stress-related death rates in several areas, including cities. “Hardship exists not only in rural Virginia but, increasingly, in pockets of disadvantage in metropolitan areas. More nuanced explanations for these health trends must also be considered,” the authors noted in the report.
Why were middle-aged white people disproportionately impacted by stress-related mortality? The authors noted that during the two decades examined in the report, young and middle-aged white people have experienced instability, both social and economic, unlike what their parents and grandparents have experienced. “This age group is experiencing life conditions that differ starkly from past expectations and may lack the resilience to endure the cumulative stress that comes with prolonged social and economic hardships,” the authors said.
The rise in stress-related deaths in Virginia mirrors a nationwide trend of what some have called “deaths of despair.”
The authors also noted that while recent findings have focused on these unexpected trends among White Americans, death rates for certain minority populations, such as among African Americans, continue to be significantly and consistently higher than those of their white counterparts, indicating the need for population-wide evidence and action.
About the Center on Society and Health
The VCU Center on Society and Health is an academic research center that studies the health implications of social factors—such as education, income, neighborhood and community environmental conditions, and public policy. Its mission is to answer relevant questions that can “move the needle” to improve the health of Americans. For more information, visit societyhealth.vcu.edu. Follow the Center on Twitter (@VCUSocHealth) or on Facebook (facebook.com/VCUSocHealth).