Our Collective Numbness Around “Deaths Of Despair.”

It’s seemingly either we ignore it, we label it wrong, or we fight on a platform. Why not, uh, help others?

Ted Bauer
8 min readFeb 2


This is a bigger topic and I may not get it all right, but I’ll do my best to try.

If you’re unfamiliar with the terms “deaths of despair,” which local news anchors sometimes mistakenly refer to as “depths of despair,” it basically refers to a trend in the last 20 years whereby we’re seeing more deaths around:

  • Suicide
  • Overdose
  • Long-term alcohol use

The big names in the space are Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who wrote the literal book on the subject. I guess it needs to be noted right now that Case and Deaton are both superstar academics with supposed net worth valuations into the low millions, so they themselves don’t have much issue with “deaths of despair.” Someone vaguely close to them might commit suicide, yes, but it would likely be brushed under the rug as a “mental health thing.” It’s interesting that J.D. Vance, who was considered a demigod in this space, went full Trump and became a Senator by exploiting the culture wars, even though he himself is a rich consultant who went to Yale Law School.

When I say “this space” in the paragraph above, what I mean is (sadly but honestly): explaining “how Trump happened” to liberal-aligned, coastal elites. The “deaths of despair” stuff fits right into that wheelhouse. Staying on Trump for one second (hopefully not much more), I’ve always thought that 2016 saw a lot of “closeted Trump voters,” meaning people who said “No, I’ll never vote for that asshole” — and then did exactly that. Four years later, they were just tired of some of the chaos, and how he moved markets with two tweets. That didn’t help their portfolios, and their daughter was constantly screaming at dinner, so they either didn’t vote or voted Biden. That’s a much more logical explanation for 2020 than “ballots in Korea,” IMHO.

We don’t get that deep into “deaths of despair” unless we’re interested in economics and statistics and get a half-chub looking at graphs based on random counties in Ohio. In general, the narrative most ascribe to “deaths of despair” is:



Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.