I live in a great state. Those that routinely fly over us, who make government policy, who define pop culture and write the news rarely think about us, which is probably for the better. From the kind people to the broad rivers, from the hills and hollers to the skyscrapers and bustling freeways, Missouri is a great and classically American place to live and thrive. And it is dying. Culturally, it is strong. Economically, the state seems to be flying. Our infrastructure seems to need some work from what the government says, but is doing okay. I am talking about the people. They are actually dying. As in they are dying younger, they are more sick physically and they are more sick mentally than ever before.
Though the authorities in Missouri and the national media have seeming not to notice, some academics have. This report (from researchers out of state) published shocking results. I will borrow from their article freely. As you can see in the map below, certain parts of the state are bleeding. As the authors note, these are rural areas of persistent poverty. They are overwhelmingly white. And, in the phrase they use, the deaths are “deaths of depair.”
They are deaths of overdose, suicide, alcohol abuse, and related diseases. But death rates from other preventable causes are also increasing at alarming rates. Deaths from cardiovascular disease and diabetes, for example, are rising, and because the absolute number of deaths from cardiovascular disease dwarf, say gun deaths, the resulting suffering from cardiovascular disease is significantly more real to so many more households.
Statistics is the only tool to wrestle with this, but I fear that the drama of the message will be lost due to the complexity of the medium. Pemiscot County, for example, has a premature death rate that is 3.6 times higher than Orange County, California.
Let’s try and make this a little more real. So bear with me on some slightly fuzzy statistics. I hope that someone better than me can do this better. So challenge this, please. Lets get lots of folks, smart folks arguing about great ways to talk about this.
If the deaths in the OC looked like Pemiscot County, there would be about 9,000 extra deaths a year in Orange County. That is like having a mass shooting in OC EVERY DAY. It’s like having 1 to 2 plane crashes at LAX weekly. It is like someone bombing a Lakers game and half of the people dying. It is like a crazed psycho getting free in LA and killing most of the celebrity actors. Imagine the national outrage if a psycho killed most of the actors in the US.
Well, you say, LA is huge. This is referring to death rates, not absolute numbers. Sure the absolute numbers look dramatic in OC, but Pemiscot county is tiny. And it is. But if you live in Iron County or Pemiscot County, this death rate IS YOUR REALITY. You are watching as over half of the county is obese. You are watching as your friends suffer from mental health conditions. You are watching as no one seems to care. Health care is not even on the agenda of the state government. There is no national outrage. Is it because the median household income is only $33,000 (as in half of the households have less than $33,000 in income!)? Is it because the powers that be are aided by your despair somehow?
So I am starting this series to try and bring attention to the state that I love. To the despair. To the lack of health care. And I want to bring solutions. I want to force a conversation. So if this strikes a nerve with you, or you care in any way, please share it. We have to talk about this prior to dealing with it, so lets talk. Rebut my thoughts. Come up with more elegant ways to talk about it, but lets start a process that will save a state.