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Does Despair Really Kill? A Roadmap for an Evidence-Based Answer


Shanahan, Lilly; Hill, Sherika N; Gaydosh, Lauren M; Steinhoff, Annekatrin; Costello, E Jane; Dodge, Kenneth A; Harris, Kathleen Mullan; Copeland, William E (2019). Does Despair Really Kill? A Roadmap for an Evidence-Based Answer. American Journal of Public Health, 109(6):854-858.

Abstract

Two seemingly associated demographic trends have generated considerable interest: income stagnation and rising premature mortality from suicides, drug poisoning, and alcoholic liver disease among US non-Hispanic Whites with low education. Economists interpret these population-level trends to indicate that despair induced by financial stressors is a shared pathway to these causes of death. Although we now have the catchy term "deaths of despair," we have yet to study its central empirical claim: that conceptually defined and empirically assessed "despair" is indeed a common pathway to several causes of death. At the level of the person, despair consists of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and biological domains. Despair can also permeate social relationships, networks, institutions, and communities. Extant longitudinal data sets feature repeated measures of despair-before, during, and after the Great Recession-offering resources to test the role that despair induced by economic decline plays in premature morbidity and mortality. Such tests must also focus on protective factors that could shield individuals. is more than a phrase; it constitutes a hypothesis that deserves conceptual mapping and empirical study with longitudinal, multilevel data.

Abstract

Two seemingly associated demographic trends have generated considerable interest: income stagnation and rising premature mortality from suicides, drug poisoning, and alcoholic liver disease among US non-Hispanic Whites with low education. Economists interpret these population-level trends to indicate that despair induced by financial stressors is a shared pathway to these causes of death. Although we now have the catchy term "deaths of despair," we have yet to study its central empirical claim: that conceptually defined and empirically assessed "despair" is indeed a common pathway to several causes of death. At the level of the person, despair consists of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and biological domains. Despair can also permeate social relationships, networks, institutions, and communities. Extant longitudinal data sets feature repeated measures of despair-before, during, and after the Great Recession-offering resources to test the role that despair induced by economic decline plays in premature morbidity and mortality. Such tests must also focus on protective factors that could shield individuals. is more than a phrase; it constitutes a hypothesis that deserves conceptual mapping and empirical study with longitudinal, multilevel data.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
06 Faculty of Arts > Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development
Dewey Decimal Classification:370 Education
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
Uncontrolled Keywords:Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
Language:English
Date:1 June 2019
Deposited On:27 May 2019 10:55
Last Modified:15 Apr 2020 23:44
Publisher:American Public Health Association
ISSN:0090-0036
OA Status:Closed
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2019.305016
PubMed ID:30998413

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