Traumatic Childhood Linked to Higher Risk of Early Death

First Posted: Sep 05, 2013 02:00 AM EDT

Childhood trauma can have a lasting effect.  A latest finding reveals a strong association between traumas during childhood and an increased risk of early death.

 A traumatic event during childhood can alter the brain. Children who have been traumatized view the world as an unsafe and frightening place. This painful experience carries over into adult life increasing the risk of further trauma. A child's sense of safety is disrupted due to traumatic experiences such as bullying, serious illness, domestic violence or sexual abuse.

 A study conducted earlier by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that people who experience childhood trauma die 20 years prematurely. Compared to adults who have good childhood experiences, people with trauma face double the risk of early death.

The latest study, conducted by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in collaboration with the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at UCL, has added to this body of evidence by confirming that adverse childhood experiences are associated with an increased risk of early death.

The researchers analyzed data of 15,000 people from the 1958 National Child Development Study. The researchers compared premature death rates to experiences of traumatic events at ages 7, 11 and 16. They even considered the time the person spent in care, suffered neglect, separation from parents or had a member of a family in prison.

 Based on the amount of adversity women suffered, their chances of dying before the age of 50 increased. Women who suffered a negative event at the age of 16 had 66 percent chances of dying before the age of 50 when compared to those women who did not suffer adversity during childhood. The risk of premature death was 80 percent high if a woman had two or more traumatic experiences during childhood.

Men were 57 percent more likely to die by the age of 50 if they suffered two or more traumatic events  compared to those men who didn't suffer adversity in their lives.

Even after considering factors like alcohol-tobacco use, education, social class and psychological issues during early adulthood, the relation between premature death and childhood traumatic experiences remained unchanged.

The researchers believe that mental stresses like suicide or alcohol/drug addiction are some of the causes of premature death. The severe stress children undergo during these events leads to imbalance in hormone and immune system. This has a drastic impact on the person's physical development.

Professor Mel Bartley, one of the authors of the study, says, "Our Centre has been collaborating with public health researchers at INSERM to enable them to use unique British birth cohort data to test their ideas. This work on early psychological trauma and premature death adds a whole new dimension to public health. It shows that if we are going to ensure better health in the population the work needs to begin early in life to support children experiencing severe adversities. Many people have suspected this but until now we have not had such high quality evidence from such a large cohort of people."

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