Startling Statistics about Mortality of Rural White Women

Longevity of life increased for most male and female Americans since the 1960s in spite of their ethnic background. Imagine the surprise for social observers to discover the high death rate of white women in rural America. Since 1999, the death of white women forty years of age and older has increased by almost 50%.
The Washington Post reported these puzzling findings from social researchers noting this trend indicating deaths from suicide and drug poisonings as some of the reasons. Another article reports concurrent declines in self-reported health, mental health ability to work, increased reports of pain, and deteriorating measures of liver function, all pointing to increased midlife distress.

The Cause May be Simple — Stress.

The stress factors that white women face in rural America are many, …not simply one. 

  • The time demands of raising children while maintaining a full time job
  • The need to work to contribute to the financial welfare of the family
  • Being a single mom who must work to susport herself and her children
  • Hopelessness about her marriage, her family, and her future
  • Struggling with ongoing chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, or diabetes to name a few
  • Dependency on alcohol or prescription pain medications to manage her physical pain and/or emotional suffering
  • Infertility in child-bearing years or late in life pregnancy
  • Lack of personal identity related to her family of origin, her marital relationship, or her job

Isn’t Stress Just a Cope-out?

stress photo

Three medical researchers spanning a number of decades have pointed to stress as a silent killer: Hans Selye, in the 1940s, Arnold Lazarus in the 1960s, and John Kabat-Zinn in the 1980s. Why is no one listening? Because the belief held by Americans is if you don’t feel good go to the doctor. The doctor will prescribe a pill that will fix your problem. This cultural belief in medicine having all the answers is the “silver bullet” approach — there is a pill that we can take to relieve the symptoms of any disease and make it go away. 

Stress is not a disease. Stress is not fixed with a pill. Stress can become the source of disease. Stress has to do with how we live our lives. Substances like alcohol, marijuana, valium, or oxycodone may make us feel better temporarily. But the problem remains. Healthy diet and exercise reduces stress and increases satisfaction with life in spite of stressful circumstances without the risk to mortality.

Let’s use an example known to rural women. The farm requires mechanical devices like a tractor to maintain and produce an income. If the tractor is not cared for it breaks down. Production and income suffers. The corn, beans, or wheat cannot be harvested. The cattle cannot be fed. The income from commodities cannot collected. Bankruptcy occurs. The farm, the dream, and the heritage is lost. All because the tractor was not given care by consistent, simple maintenance..

old tractor photo




What I Have Learned from Women Seeking Help

In my 44 years of speaking with rural wives, many said, “I wish my husband gave me the personal attention he gives his tractor or car.”Feelings of neglect and loneliness indicate stress for rural woman. If these feelings are not resolved in healthy ways, they lead to the observed increase in mortalityn. Women may turn to substance use to quiet their pain and suffering. Relationship conflicts arise and without help may result in the break up of the marital and family relationships.

The women who go to the family doctor to get relief from physical symptoms are given medications that can temporarily relieve pain and suffering. Because of that relief, rural women continue to seek medical help, asking for more of the drugs they were prescribed.  The result can be the dependency on prescription medications to ease ongoing symptoms. Pain, depression, and anxiety can be partially relieved by medication. Something more is needed. 

The three leading Medical professionals have challenged their profession to recognize stress factors that are contributing to disease and address these complaints in two ways: by educating their patients about stress and referring them to educational programs or counseling to learn stress management.

But insurers pay physicians to diagnose disease and prescribing drugs to relieve symptoms. The health industry calls that evidenced-based or outcome-based treatment. If symptoms are relieved by medication, the doctor is considered successful. However, the underlying problem has not been addressed.

How Will This High Mortality Rate Be Lowered for Rural Women?

There are community programs in women’s wellness movements, county extension services, adult education programs of community colleges, and small groups in faith communities seeking to change this trend. The change will happen slowly as women share by word of mouth the benefits they derive from stress reduction skills to their health.

The solution is simple. Some would say my solution is too simple. In the 4 decades of teaching women to consciously breathe when tension mounts, to become aware- of actions and thoughts that bring stress, and to use calming imagery to replace the habits of stress. As the person learns they can choose to breathe rather than tense up.

If you would like to learn more about ways to reduce your stress and improve your health, consider watching my free introductory video on a powerful method of Stress Management. (This is not my video yet. This is a test link for what is coming by June 22.)  Put yourself in her place.

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