A recent analysis published in the journal BMJ Open revealed that ‘diseases of despair’, including substance abuse, alcohol consumption, and suicidal thoughts have spiked in the United States over the last decade.

The researchers noted that this is regardless of the age group one belongs to.

Notably, suicidal thoughts and behaviours among teenagers have grown astronomically by 287 per cent between 2009 and 2018, and by 210 per cent among 18-34-year-olds.

Life expectancy fell year-on-year in the US, the longest sustained decline since 1915-18. But deaths among middle-aged white non-Hispanic men and women soared significantly between 1999 and 2015.

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The conditions can be largely attributed to the economic decline of workers, low levels of educational attainment, loss of social safety nets, and stagnant or falling wages and family incomes in the US.

This can even lead to emotional, behavioural and biological changes, increasing the likelihood of diseases that can progress and ultimately culminate in deaths of despair, said the researchers.

The researchers extracted data from Highmark, a large US-based health insurance company to analyse this trend.

The findings revealed that overall, one in 20 (515,830; just over 4 per cent) of those insured were diagnosed with at least one disease of despair at some point during the monitoring period. Some 58.5 per cent were male, with an average age of 36.

Of these, over half (54 per cent) were diagnosed with an alcohol-related disorder; just over 44 per cent with a substance-related disorder; and 16 per cent with suicidal thoughts/behaviours. Just under 13 per cent were diagnosed with more than one type of disease of despair.

Between 2009 and 2018, the rate of diseases of despair diagnoses increased by 68 per cent. The rate of alcohol-related, substance-related, and suicide-related diagnoses rose by 37 per cent, 94 per cent, and 170 per cent, respectively.

The largest increase in alcohol and substance-related diagnoses was seen among 55-74-year-olds: 59 per cent and 172 per cent, respectively.

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Even when the absolute numbers of suicide-related diagnoses were lower than for other types of diseases of despair, the relative increases were fearsome. Among adolescents, the rate increased by 287 per cent, and by 210 per cent among 18-34-year-olds. A relative increase of at least 70 per cent occurred in all other age groups.

These diagnoses were associated with significantly higher scores for coexisting conditions, higher rates of anxiety and mood disorders, and schizophrenia for both men and women across all age groups.

The authors of the study concluded: “While the opioid crisis remains a top public health priority, parallel rises in alcohol-related diagnoses and suicidality must be concurrently addressed.”