For the last few weeks, I have been looking for a fresh take on world events, whether it was Trump and international events, the moral failings of celebrity culture, or the daily joke that has become Australian politics. And then my best friend had a heart attack.
It’s a truly bizarre feeling, having to consider your own mortality through the experience of someone you’re close to, and especially so when it’s not the first time it’s happened. Eighteen months ago, I lost another close friend to an undiagnosed heart condition, and his death slammed into me and my circle of friends like nothing I’ve ever known. The pain at his passing is still raw, it was like having a piece of who I am as a person torn away in an instant, with no real way of ever patching that hole.
And so this news shook me to my core. This is someone, without whom, I would have been dead long ago, and to consider the world without his presence, well, that’s not a world I can comprehend. Even now, as I sit on his balcony, having read the medical discharge summary, there’s an otherworldly sense that this is some kind of dream, because this sort of thing doesn’t happen to 30-year olds. This is supposed to be a concern for the elderly; the frail; and those with pre-existing conditions; not active, social, young people.
But it does happen. Some studies show as many as 10% of heart attacks occur before age 45, with lifestyle factors the primary cause for up to 80% of all heart attacks in young people. But even then, for most young people, there isn’t going to be a big, red flashing light, telling them to consider the future impact of today’s behaviour. Younger Australians are more likely to drink to excess, ignore their sedentary lifestyles, and engage in reckless behaviour. We’re less likely to have regular health check-ups, and many of us can’t afford to have the day off.
Another concerning factor from where I’m standing, is how this particular case came about. Working upwards of 12 hours a day, 29 days a month, on a casual contract is insane. But, it’s also a reality for any young person in today’s job market, and for a tradesperson in their 30s, there is a tendency towards more risk-taking behaviour, because greater availability means more shifts. Of course, one of the easiest ways to increase your availability is to look to illicit substances to give you an edge over younger co-workers. A 2015 study of Australian drug data showed that methamphetamine use is highest amongst blue collar workers, and whether they’re smoking, snorting, or dumping it in their energy drinks, there is little regard amongst workers for how much damage this particular drug can do. But it’s not just ice, cocaine use is on the rise, and construction workers are amongst those at greatest risk of drug and alcohol abuse. Not to mention the incredibly high rates of smokers, another leading cause of heart disease.
This is the sort of concerning trend that trade unions used to fight to overcome, not necessarily the drug use itself, but the conditions that lead to its widespread abuse in the workplace. Yet the alleged party of the unions, the Australian Labor Party, still lacks any sensible policy with regard to the treatment of drug users, or the structure of the modern workforce.
The vicarious nature of friendship means that when something like this happens, it will cause those around them to question their own habits, whether it means dialling back their partying, chasing their dreams, or realising how important certain friendships are.
For now, it means taking a day off work to make sure a friend is okay and helping them re-evaluate some of their choices.
For what it’s worth, I’m not opposed to the use of drugs and alcohol, this is more about the societal factors that are killing young people, from overwork to the extreme costs of living that cause some individuals to dive headlong into any available escape.