Disclaimer: This is a pretty heavy topic.
Let's at least start on a good foot with some potential solutions.
Eat real natural foods
Focus on being vulnerable and staying connected to others and yourself
Get outside in green space for a short walk or exercise consistently
Focus on habits that translate to high-quality sleep.
Now let's get to the dark part. We've been on the decline in life expectancy for the last few years now.1 The pandemic put the most significant dent in our public health data for 2020, though we were on a steady downward trend already. The specific culprits are rises in drug overdoses (primarily opioids), liver disease (alcohol and obesity), and suicide rates (our mental health).2 I'll let you dive into the numbers here while I'll stick to the supremacy issue below.
Let's start with opioids. It's a unique crisis in that it's a mix of our private and capital-focused healthcare system as well as the narrow-minded pursuit of a few unsavory actors. The Sackler family has been at the center of the actor category. John Oliver has done three separate shows on opioids highlighting the family, and HBO has made a hit documentary and Hulu is now releasing a feature film, Dopesick. The focus on pharmacological fixes is nothing new over the last few decades; it's just the culmination of the pursuit of supremacy in the pill game to earn a buck. Now that the numbers are skyrocketing over the last few years, many are crying foul—with no real solution in sight. I had my run-in with opioids in the form of Vicodin when I tore all the ligaments in my ankle in college. The way it just numbed me out was no joke. Luckily at the time, I was not too fond of the sensation and didn't get hooked, but I had friends who were regular users that would combine it with alcohol, and I could see the clasp. Opioids don't play when it comes to addiction.3 While we wait for governance and morality to set in, we can take control back ourselves by focusing on our foundational health with an anti-inflammatory regimen and some measures for natural pain management.4
Liver disease. When I initially read about the rise of liver disease, I thought of two uniquely American things: Bud Light Lime-A-Rita and the Taco Bell Fourth Meal. Although I could've picked any number of gluttonous examples, these were just top of mind. Unfortunately, our food and beverage industry continues to find new ways to produce new unhealthy versions for consumption and the campaigns to push them. So you can't sleep because you've been glued to social media scrolling and getting anxious about how your life doesn't compare to the performance Susie Q is putting on? No worries, there's a 24-hour food spot to soothe your fears. Also, this White Claw will help you YOLO and numb out! These enormous obstacles are why I promote eating real food so often. Unfortunately, this cultural phenomenon inundates us, and our most fundamental and straightforward way to combat it is to teach our bodies and palettes to know what's helping us versus hurting us.5
Finally, the heaviest of all, suicide. Look, no one likes to talk about death, let alone suicide. Yet, it's one of the biggest modern tragedies. And we need to address the stigma of mental health issues that underly this worst-case scenario end game for people who feel trapped in life. The complexity of why suicides are rising is a mix of agents, including economic conditions, access to guns and addictive substances (see opioids and alcohol above), and social media spurred anxiety and depression.6 I've personally faced suicidal ideation. It's increased in recent years as I've felt more pressure to achieve and 'perform.' It's certainly not easy to talk about it, but the beauty is when we give it air, it allows space for us to be heard and for others to relate and connect. I've experienced this first hand in my men's groups and AA meetings. While I am certainly not an expert in this field, I can speak personally to the efficacy of being vulnerable and open leading to the opportunity to feel connection and subsiding my anxious thoughts. Here is more advice and ideas for outlets to address whatever valid feeling you are having about yourself.
Thanks for reading through this one. I'm deeply passionate about being healthy, and while I like to stay positive and fun about health topics, sometimes we need to look at some harsh truths to get a different perspective.