New research suggests diseases, classified as diseases of despair, have risen in Pennsylvania and across the country.

The research from Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute and Highmark Health classify diseases of despair as alcohol-and substance related disorders and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. They found, they increased in Pennsylvania health insurance claims between 2007 and 2018.

Dr. Lawrence Sinoway, Director of Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute, conducted this research specifically for Pennsylvania, following research out of Princeton, that looked at deaths of despair and life expectancy in the U.S. particularly amongst middle-aged white men and women.

“They made the observation that individials in the U.S. that their life expectancy was not increasing at the rate it had over the last hundred years,” said Dr. Sinoway.

It instead leveled off in the early 2010’s, which they found to be associated with diseases of despair, and believe it’s associated with an economic downturn in rural communities. Dr. Sinoway and his team found a similarity in Pennsylvania as well, that crossed racial, ethnic and geographic groups.

“The data showed that there’s been an explosion of these types of claims for health care,” said Dr. Sinoway.

They analyzed about 12 million health claims in Pennsylvania and surrounding states and found that the rates of alcohol, substance, and suicide-related diagnoses increased by 37 percent, 94 percent and 170 percent, respectively, between 2009 and 2018. Dr. Sinoway believes this pandemic could exacerbate these problems. He says his work is far from over.

“Next steps, one of them is going to be to understand which communites are particularly pre-disposed to these types of problems,” said Dr. Sinoway.

That will help them with work on specific interventions.