Archive for November, 2018

Soaring suicide and overdose deaths have pushed down life expectancy significantly.

Life expectancy is on the decline in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released three new reports on Thursday. While the 10 leading causes of death remained the same between 2016 and 2017, the government organization claims that increases in two specific categories are to blame — and both are totally preventable.

In 2017, there were more than 70,000 overdose deaths — an all-time high and 6,600 more than the previous year — while the suicide rate increased by a whopping 3.7%. While the overall life expectancy only decreased a total of 0.1 year (to 78.6) from 2016, government officials find explanation behind the drop “tragic and troubling.”

“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement.

Dr. Christine Moutier, the Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is particularly concerned about the fact that more and more Americans are taking their own lives. “This increase in the suicide rate is extremely discouraging. Until we scale up intervention efforts at the community, state and national levels, we will likely continue to see an increase in suicides in the United States,” she said in a separate statement via email about the new CDC data.

She suggests addressing suicide as a public health issue — similar to the way we deal with other leading causes of death — which include heart diseasecancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease. “Suicide is preventable. As a nation, we must take action by making a major investment in suicide research, translating that research into treatment and early interventions for mental health, and further educating the public on the warning signs of suicide.”

As for overdose deaths, an interesting finding of the data is that the overall increase wasn’t due to the younger population: the most significant increase in drug overdose death rates occurred for those between the ages of 55 and 64 for the period 1999 to 2017. Also, while heroin deaths remained consistent, overdose deaths involving fentanyl, fentanyl analogs and other non-methadone synthetic opioids increased by a whopping 45% between 2016 and 2017.

This new information is a sobering reminder that we need to invest more time and resources into preventable deaths. “We must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier,” Redfield continued in his statement.


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Chances are you think you’re a good listener. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average.

In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things:

  • Not talking when others are speaking
  • Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
  • Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word

In fact, much management advice on listening suggests doing these very things – encouraging listeners to remain quiet, nod and “mm-hmm” encouragingly, and then repeat back to the talker something like, “So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is…” However, recent research that we conducted suggests that these behaviors fall far short of describing good listening skills.

We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference. With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.

We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. We grouped them into four main findings:

  • Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.
  • Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem. The best listeners made the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!). Good listeners made the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them. Good listening was characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences could be discussed openly.
  • Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. In these interactions, feedback flowed smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners were seen as competitive — as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excellent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.
  • Good listeners tended to make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider. This finding somewhat surprised us, since it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that “So-and-so didn’t listen, he just jumped in and tried to solve the problem.” Perhaps what the data is telling us is that making suggestions is not itself the problem; it may be the skill with which those suggestions are made. Another possibility is that we’re more likely to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners. (Someone who is silent for the whole conversation and then jumps in with a suggestion may not be seen as credible. Someone who seems combative or critical and then tries to give advice may not be seen as trustworthy.)

While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.

Of course, there are different levels of listening. Not every conversation requires the highest levels of listening, but many conversations would benefit from greater focus and listening skill. Consider which level of listening you’d like to aim for:

Level 1: The listener creates a safe environment in which difficult, complex, or emotional issues can be discussed.

Level 2: The listener clears away distractions like phones and laptops, focusing attention on the other person and making appropriate eye-contact. (This behavior not only affects how you are perceived as the listener; it immediately influences the listener’s own attitudes and inner feelings. Acting the part changes how you feel inside. This in turn makes you a better listener.)

Level 3: The listener seeks to understand the substance of what the other person is saying. They capture ideas, ask questions, and restate issues to confirm that their understanding is correct.

Level 4: The listener observes nonbverbal cues, such as facial expressions, perspiration, respiration rates, gestures, posture, and numerous other subtle body language signals. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals. It sounds strange to some, but you listen with your eyes as well as your ears.

Level 5: The listener increasingly understands the other person’s emotions and feelings about the topic at hand, and identifies and acknowledges them. The listener empathizes with and validates those feelings in a supportive, nonjudgmental way.

Level 6: The listener asks questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light. This could include the listener injecting some thoughts and ideas about the topic that could be useful to the other person. However, good listeners never highjack the conversation so that they or their issues become the subject of the discussion.

Each of the levels builds on the others; thus, if you’ve been criticized (for example) for offering solutions rather than listening, it may mean you need to attend to some of the other levels (such as clearing away distractions or empathizing) before your proffered suggestions can be appreciated.

We suspect that in being a good listener, most of us are more likely to stop short rather than go too far. Our hope is that this research will help by providing a new perspective on listening. We hope those who labor under an illusion of superiority about their listening skills will see where they really stand. We also hope the common perception that good listening is mainly about acting like an absorbent sponge will wane. Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.


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In 2018, a lot more thought goes into marriage than it did 50 years ago. In 1970, the average age to get married in the United States was 20.8 for women and 23 for men, but that number has climbed considerably in recent decades—it’s now 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men.

The reasoning behind hitting the brakes on marriage varies. While paying off student debt and wanting to get ahead in their careers before settling down are valid reasons many millennials cite, they also seem to be placing a higher premium on getting to know themselves and their partners: According to a recent eHarmony report, members of couples in the United States between the ages of 25 and 34 knew each other for an average of 6.5 years before getting married, compared to an average of five years in other age groups.

The point, it seems, is to avoid divorce. “People are not postponing marriage because they care about marriage less but because they care about marriage more,” Benjamin Karney, a professor of social psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the New York Times.

While these seem like smart, well-thought-out decisions, could partnering up later in life come with negative mental health consequences? Here’s what the experts have to say.

Marriage and our loneliness crisis.

Thanks to the rise of technology, there’s no question that we’re facing a loneliness crisis. And because waiting longer to settle down could result in more years of living alone, there’s some concern that saving marriage for later in life could result in an uptick in loneliness.

But according to Nathalie C. Theodore, LCSW, when it comes to loneliness, not having a romantic partner is neither here nor there.

“Regardless of marital status, we all need a solid support system to combat loneliness,” she explains. “So whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, it’s important to spend time nurturing your friendships so that you’re not relying on just one person to fulfill all of your needs.”

Photo: Philippe Roy

The mental health benefits (and consequences) of waiting longer to get married.

One huge benefit of waiting longer to get married? You’ll spend more time getting to know yourself. “I’d say that knowing yourself as an adult before finding a partner may ultimately help you choose the right partner,” explains Alison Stone, LCSW. “Fully understanding who you are as a person—what your needs and values are, what makes you tick, how you operate best in relationships, what partnership means to you—can be a really useful tool in selecting a healthy partner.”

She adds that because most of us experience periods of growth and changes to our identity in our 20s, we’re often drawn to very different types of people at 20 versus 28—and by our late 20s, we’re a lot more likely to make better-informed decisions about who we spend our lives with.

On the flip side, Theodore points out that waiting longer to get married can cause a unique kind of stress. “Waiting to get married may cause anxiety or depression for those who are eager to tie the knot and haven’t found the right person yet, or who are in a committed relationship with someone who wants to wait,” she explains.

Delaying marriage and the divorce rate.

Stone believes that while delaying marriage will likely lead to a decline in the divorce rate, it’s important that people are delaying it for the right reasons. “It will lead to a decline in the divorce rate if getting married later in life means people have taken more time to select the ‘right’ partner, are more self-aware and in tune with their needs, and are making better long-term choices for themselves,” she explains. “Yet while there will always be trends, marriage and divorce rates are impacted by such a wide variety of factors—including variations in economic status, race, geographic location—that I imagine it’s hard to measure that with full accuracy.”


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