The Stolen Years

Everybody dies. Why state the morbidly obvious? Language used by politicians and the media, with phrases like “excess deaths” (more people died than we expected) or “weekend deaths” (err… because dying on at the weekend is worse?), often give the strange impression that death is some sort of avoidable outcome.

Perhaps we should change the language. Not excess deaths, but early deaths. Who are the people dying, and how much earlier are they dying than they would have otherwise? (To be fair, when academics or clinicians refer to excess deaths, this is what they mean: but this seems to get lost in the lay translation.)

The graphic below is based on data for England & Wales in 2014, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It shows causes of death ordered by life-years lost: a crude estimate of the person-years of life that would have otherwise been lived.


What surprised me most producing this was the scale of life-years lost to “self-harm & events of undetermined intent” (aka suicide). Suicide afflicts a thankfully small number of people, relative to the traditionally-understood big killers like heart disease, but they are too-often tragically young. Knowing this in advance I had expected it to feature in the top twenty, but not to be number one. With nearly 100,000 years of life lost to suicide every year.

Dare I say, perhaps we should focus our national healthcare debates less on what day of the week the already elderly and sick die on, and more on mental health.

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