Health Psych: Approaching Death

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Virginia Commonwealth University
PSYC 412
David Perrin

Chapter 12: Psychological Issues in Advancing and Terminal Illness 11/1/13 4:15 PM Death: You Will Die! • As humans, we know we are going to die • U.S. death rates have declined o Over the past 100 years, life expectancy has increased an average of 30 years per person • Average lifespan (men and women, average) = 77.7 years • Now, more causes of death are from chronic illness o Can anticipate death 5, 10 or many years in advance o Living w chronic illness knowing it will probably kill you Top Causes of Death in US, 2006 • Heart disease—631,636 deaths • Cancer—559,888 deaths Infant Mortality Rate • Extremely high in the U.S.—6.7 per 1000 o Higher than most/all other developed countries ▯ All have national health care programs ▯ Countries considered less developed still have lower infant mortality rates • Geographic disparities o Throughout the world—Latin America, Africa, India higher rates o Within U.S.—“Bible Belt” has highest infant mortality rate • Racial/Ethnic disparities o Black infants have highest rates o Latin American infants have incredibly low rates Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) • Infant simply stops breathing • Causes not entirely known • Gentle death for the infant • Enormous psychological toll for parents o Shoulder guilt • Predictors: o Lower SES families o Mother smoked during pregnancy o Baby put to sleep on side/stomach o Sleeping in the same bed as parent Death in Children Ages 1-15 • #1 Accidents (40%) • #2 Cancer (esp. leukemia) • Children’s understanding of death: o Age 1-5: long sleep, curious rather than sad, death not final o Age 5-9: death as final, personified evil figure (grim reaper), don’t yet understand biological death o By age 10: understand death as universal, inevitable, decomposition follows Death in Young Adults Ages 15-24 • #1 unintentional injury (car accidents) • #2 homicide o 6x higher among young black men than young white men • #3 suicide • #4 cancer • Reactions to young adult death o Considered tragic—died “too young” o Young adults feel shock, outrage, sense of injustice o Often sudden or unexpected o Disrupted worldviews, values • YA tend to think about life as “time since birth” Death in Middle Age • Death becomes more common • Think about life as “time until death” • De
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