What You Do Know Can Kill You

“It’s the never ending toxic stress, that’s what’ll kill you.”  Therein lies the thesis of the ninth film in Pure Nonfiction’s 2019 Winter Season, One Nation Under Stress, presented by CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta.  The new film from acclaimed documentarian Marc Levin focuses on the ‘deaths of despair’ - liver cirrhosis, opioid addiction, and suicide - and their recent rise here in the United States.  

In the film, Sanjay Gupta embarks on a whirlwind tour across the country to uncover the reasons behind the consecutive three year increase in the U.S.’s mortality rate.  He explains, “knowing the cause of the cause is far more important in this country.” Along the way, he encounters prominent doctors, nobel prize winning academics, but most importantly, the everyday americans hardest hit by these deaths of despair.  Gupta remarks, “Do you want to see how economic decline can affect your health? Go to the rust belt.” One such resident, Rick Thompson, summarizes the sentiment well - “Not only do you feel helpless, you feel rage.” As Gupta digs more deeply into the causes, he finds a sense of community remains intensely beneficial.  “In order to best care for ourselves, we have to care for each other.” He continues, “We were communal, and that’s the only thing that’s gonna save us moving forward.” As his tour comes to a close, he deduces these ‘deaths of despair’ are inherently preventable. “We could stop manufacturing the disease in the first place.”

Gupta offered additional insights in the Q&A following the film regarding those everyday americans. “The idea that you have these dashed expectations, that you have these broken dreams, that has a measurable effect on the body as well.”  Producer Daphne Pinkerson commented further by saying, “This showed through a medical lens, a scientific lens, what our policies are really doing to people..” Director Marc Levin came to a similar conclusion. “The overriding problem I think is the lack of empathy and compassion in our culture.”  He continued, “We are in a crisis point now and this is really an alarm, when you hear that the wealthiest, most advanced nation in human history is going backwards in terms of life expectancy.” Gupta in particular, however, does not believe all is lost. “I’m actually more hopeful now than I was at the beginning of this film because I think we’ve been able to identify more clearly what the problem is.  And once you more clearly identify it, I think there are different ways to tackle it.”

One Nation Under Stress is available to stream on all HBO platforms starting Monday, March 26 at 9 PM. More information on the film is available at https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/one-nation-under-stress.