Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Spiritual Crisis is Killing Us

It took two Princeton economists to point out a serious epidemic in America. One where middle aged Americans (aged 45-54) have seen all cause mortality increase from 1990 to the present. This in light of an otherwise decrease in deaths in other age groups here in the US and in other countries. Their paper points out several other key findings from their analysis of multiple sources including:

1. All age groups have had a dramatic increase in deaths by poisonings (drugs and alcohol), suicides, and chronic liver disease

2. Specifically, the increased mortality was in middle aged Americans, men and women, with a high school education or less.

3. This finding was in contrast to other developed countries that did not see this trend
Please take time to look this information over—I have listed web references to the article below, along with useful related news articles about it, and a very interesting interview with one of the authors, Angus Deaton.

As physicians practicing in the United States, we are of course gravely concerned with these findings. There are probably many things contributing to this trend. The authors of the study mention several, including the loss of American factory jobs and the increase in the use of prescription pain killers. I would add the overall oversupply of medical care and over-medicalization of problems in general.
Ultimately, however, we would argue that the problems they are trying to describe are spiritual problems. Problems of meaning and purpose and fulfillment and identity. They can be affected by politics, economics, and healthcare, but at their core, these issues are very clearly spiritual. Those components of politics, economics, health, and other things that surround us and are our setting and our environment of course affect us and our outlook on life. But we believe that they do not in fact define us, make us, determine us, or become us.

We are spiritual beings. We exist within these realms but apart from them as well. Thus they cannot ultimately define us. I exist as a spiritual being among others who are also spiritual beings. Relationships define us more than simply two making an economic interchange. The persons that interact fill each other with something unmeasured, something eternal. We also exist in relation to God. God the author of meaning as well as the author and creator of the setting and the maker of the person. The giver of life to these mortal bodies must be sought if the quest is at all spiritual.

We have approached spirituality in medicine as rather an afterthought. An add-on to good medical diagnosis and treatment. To give some flavor to an otherwise dry and antiseptic approach to suffering. But what this information must show us once again is that a proper understanding, respect, and fear of God and a belief in the reality of the person is necessary to save lives. Spiritual problems are real problems. Life and death problems. Problems that affect individuals, families, groups, whole societies, and the world.

So, also please look around our website.  And send us a contribution. Spiritual problems demand spiritual solutions.

References – very important to look at all of these, especially if you are in the medical field:
Case and Deaton's article.  This is the abstract, and it has free links to the entire article.
A CBS news piece and interview with Angus Deaton.
The youtube site for the interview, plays better than through CBS.  Very interesting on several topics.
Fareed Zakaria theorizes on the article and its information in the Washington Post, expanding to current politics.