Analyzing the Connection between Social Isolation and Deaths of Despair in Ohio
Keywords:deaths of despair
social determinants of health
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. John Glenn College of Public Affairs Undergraduate Research Theses; 2020
This paper examines the potential connection between social isolation and deaths of despair in the state of Ohio using data from 2016. The emergence of an upward trend in deaths caused by suicide, alcohol-abuse, and drug overdoses presents the United States with a pervasive and cross-cutting problem that is believed to have caused the first decline in American life expectancy in decades. Over the past five years, Ohio, in particular, has been significantly impacted by the scourge of so-called 'deaths of despair.' At the same time, in an increasingly connected world, health behaviors have a more profound impact on individual, community, and population health than ever before; while technological and societal advances allow people to be more connected to one another than ever before, the traditional concept of community in the United States is less and less part of Americans' everyday lives. Social isolation, however, is an increasingly prominent adverse health behavior that is being observed throughout the world and is directly linked to negative health outcomes. The potential connection between the increase in social isolation and the emergence of the trend in deaths of despair informed the following questions: What is the relationship, if any, between social isolation and deaths of despair in Ohio's 88 counties? Are there differences in relationships between social isolation and specific types of deaths of despair in Ohio's 88 counties? Utilizing multivariate regression modeling, statistical analysis was performed on a dataset consisting of rates of mortality, social connectedness, and population characteristics for each of Ohio's 88 counties to evaluate the potential for a link between social isolation and deaths of despair. The results showed that while there is not a correlation between social connectedness and deaths of despair, counties with high comparative unemployment rates and populations of Ohioans over the age of sixty-five have higher rates of deaths of despair. Additionally, it was found that social isolation is significantly and positively correlated with the rate of drug overdoses per county. The absence of an explicit connection between social isolation and deaths of despair in this study, however, scrutinizes how social connectedness and social relationships are measured in empirical studies. In conclusion, it is recommended that future research on social isolation include both physical and digital measures of social connectedness and closely examine the relationship between social isolation and deaths of despair to conditions of aging and unemployment.
Academic Major: Public Management, Leadership and Policy