depression mental illness

(Credit: Andrew Neel from Pexels)

💡What To Know:

  • Deaths of despair typically involve drug use, alcohol, or suicide.
  • Life expectancy among Americans has dropped in recent years, studies reveal.
  • From 1997-2002, severe distress was associated with a 114% in mortality among Whites.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A recent study by researchers at The Ohio State University has uncovered a startling disparity in the impact of “deaths of despair” across racial lines in the United States. Despite experiencing lower levels of severe psychological distress overall, White Americans are significantly more likely to succumb to despair-related situations than their Black and Hispanic peers.

The term “deaths of despair” describes fatalities resulting from drug overdose, alcohol-related diseases, and suicide, which have notably surged among less-educated White Americans since the 2000s. OSU researchers expand on this concept, demonstrating that the consequences of despair extend far beyond these causes, impacting mortality rates due to a broader spectrum of health issues such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease among White and Black Americans.

The study delves into despair as a determinant of death, investigating its variations over time and across different racial and ethnic groups. Utilizing data from multiple sources, including the U.S. National Health Interview Survey Linked Mortality File and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Multiple Cause of Death database, researchers analyzed the health outcomes of 409,095 individuals from 1997 to 2014.

The findings reveal a consistent increase in moderate or severe psychological distress among White Americans during the study period, particularly those without a college degree. In contrast, the trends for Black and Hispanic Americans showed variation, with Whites maintaining a lower prevalence of psychological distress across the board. Despite this, Caucasians exhibited a higher susceptibility to the lethal consequences of psychological distress.

woman drinking alcohol
The term “deaths of despair” describes fatalities resulting from drug overdose, alcohol-related diseases, and suicide. (Credit: Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels)

One notable observation from the study is the significant impact of severe psychological distress on mortality rates, which was markedly higher for Whites than for Blacks or Hispanics. For instance, between 1997 and 2002, severe distress was associated with a 114-percent increase in mortality among Whites, compared to a 44-percent and 51-percent increase among Blacks and Hispanics, respectively.

“The White population has an increasing trend of despair-related mortality after 2000,” says study lead author Hui Zheng, professor of sociology at OSU, in a university release. “They are more likely to die from despair compared to Blacks and Hispanics, even though they have a lower level of despair overall.”

Zheng speculates that the rising levels of despair among White Americans could be attributed to various factors, including the decline of well-paying blue-collar jobs, a perceived loss of social status, reduced religious participation, and a decline in marriage rates. However, the study suggests that Black and Hispanic Americans might be shielded from the worst effects of psychological distress due to higher levels of religiosity and stronger social support networks.

This research challenges the traditional understanding of deaths of despair by highlighting that such deaths account for only about half of the total deaths linked to psychological distress in Black and white Americans. It points to the broader health implications of despair, such as stress, obesity, and poor lifestyle choices, that contribute to an array of diseases leading to premature death.

“The issue is that White Americans seem more vulnerable to despair — they are more likely to die from it,” notes Zheng.

The study also indicates that focusing solely on mortality related to drugs, alcohol, and suicide may overestimate the impact of despair on Hispanic Americans, suggesting that despair might not be the primary driver behind these deaths in this demographic.

“We need more research to identify the underlying factors that create these differing trends in susceptibility to despair across the various racial and ethnic groups,” concludes Zheng.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

StudyFinds’ Matt Higgins contributed to this report.

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StudyFinds sets out to find new research that speaks to mass audiences — without all the scientific jargon. The stories we publish are digestible, summarized versions of research that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. StudyFinds Staff articles are AI assisted, but always thoroughly reviewed and edited by a Study Finds staff member. Read our AI Policy for more information.

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  1. Ouroboros says:

    The harder you have it early in life, the easier you’ll have it later in life. Adversity breeds success. There’s a lesson to be learned: white people…. stop coddling your damn kids!

  2. Steven B says:

    This is because for white people, there is more shame in being poor or unsuccessful or addicted to drugs. Furthermore, a lot of working class whites have literally zero retirement savings. So when they encounter a health crisis or prolonged unemployment in say their 50’s they have no means to survive it and often turn to suicide or a death spiral of addiction.

    The answer is more and better social insurance, more addiction programs, and free or inexpensive counseling to help people through their crises. But with Republicans in charge, don’t hold your breath on any of these things happening.

    1. Real Truth says:

      I agree with Steven on this one. European whites suicide rates have dropped. If anything this shows that USA doesn’t care about it’d middle/poor class.

  3. Jagdo Fett says:

    That’s not what I was told at college/ Have fun with your kookie fantasy white person.

    Clearly you need your mommie to come and make it all better.


  4. JamalKlortho says:

    White people can’t handle stress very well. It is a genetic defect in the species. The same defect is homologous with physical weakness and intellectual weakness – at least in the European immigrants who settled America.

    Later Immigrants don’t carry the same intellectual defects.

  5. Stumbling Duck says:

    Exactly. I’m sure the same level of depression is felt by prisoners regardless of color. That’s what’s happened.. we lost our freedom of choice, of thought, of opportunities, all in the name of DEI – instead of bringing up those who didn’t have opportunities, they squashed down one group to give to others. There is room for opportunity for all, but for US politicians and elitists. One pro tip is to ignore them, don’t watch the snooze, don’t give them your headspace. Because in the end.. Living well is the best revenge.

  6. Truth says:

    It’s a red state problem and it’s been known for a long time. Look at GOP ideology, openly racist and grifting the poor, uneducated Fox News viewing white voters, under the old GOP strategy. Eventually these voters have to confront the fact that they are poor, fat and uneducated, no matter how much them attacking others gives them momentary joy. The rest of the world also has zero empathy for people that are openly racist and are constantly lying and attacking other people. So these types when they are forced to introspect at all, have no choice but to admit how awful they are and how hopeless it is for them.

    The solution is to get educated and be kind to others. You reap what you sow. Call out the grift every time, call out the racism, call out the power abuse, and then other empathize with your situation as well, and things improve all around. The solution is not to double down like a cult and behave worse.

    1. Thisguyliveswithcats says:

      Hundred bucks this guy lives with a bunch of cats.

    2. Dan says:

      Name the “openly racist, grifting the poor” policies. Second, explain HOW that would
      SOMEHOW lead to committing suicide or having depression.
      You can’t because you’re an unhinged liar.

  7. jack mccready says:

    No secret. White people and their ancestors built this country. Illegal aliens from the Third World are destroying it.

  8. Sage says:

    Nice try! Plant article…

  9. Crickett says:

    I’m sorry, but isn’t it “depths” of despair, not “deaths”? Hard to take an article (or website) that blows it in the headline.