The contents of a new study have revealed that in addition to the well-known, long-lasting health effects that children who were physically or emotionally abused often suffer from, such as depression, women who were abused as children are also at a greater risk of dying at a younger age than other women.
In the determination of these new survival odds for adult women who were abused as a child, Fox News states that the researchers examined a national data sample of almost 6,300 adults who had self-reported their abuse. The women chosen were then tracked by the team for about two decades in order to determine how many of them were still alive by the year 2015. Over the 20 year period, it became apparent that these female survivors of childhood abuse were more likely to die earlier than other women.
The impact that the abuse had on the woman’s life span was also determined to be greater the worse the childhood abuse seemed to have been. The women who reported that they had suffered severe physical abuse were reportedly 58 percent more likely to die during the period of study, and women who had been emotionally abused as a child were 22 percent more likely to die than those without a history of childhood abuse.
The lead author of the study was Edith Chen, who is a psychology researcher at the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She expanded on the previous research which had already proved that children who survived abuse were at greater risk of poorer mental health as adults.
“There are not just psychiatric consequences of childhood abuse, but also there appear to be physical health consequences, at least based on self-reports of childhood abuse.”
The research was published online on August 17 in JAMA Psychiatry and sought to highlight the lasting and extensive effects that child abuse has on adult survivors. According to the article published under the health section of U.S. News and World Report, even though the study discovered the link between a shorter life span in women who were abused as a child it should be noted that it was not designed to give definitive proof of a cause-and-effect relationship.
However, it was discovered that as it related to men who had been either physically or emotionally abused in their childhood, they did not have the same lower life span associated with them. Despite this, men tended to report moderate to severe abuse more often than women. It is a difference that Chen states they do not fully comprehend.
“We cannot tell from the data, but we speculate that there may be differences in how men and women cope with stress, or that there may be differences in men’s and women’s biological (e.g., hormonal) responses to stress.”
Idan Shalev, an assistant professor at Penn State University, in University Park, Pennsylvania, was a co-author of an editorial published along with the study. He has done extensive research on the biological effects that stress during early life can have on adults. One theory that he developed lays the groundwork for the correlation between childhood abuse and an earlier death.
Shalev suggested that once certain adversity is introduced during early childhood, it could possibly leave a biological fingerprint which will then affect how the cells of the body cells function over a lifetime. All of the participants examined for the research were in their late 20’s when they completed the questionnaires and self-reported their childhood abuse in 1995 and 1996. At the end of the period of study, approximately 1,100 of the participants had died, which is about 17 percent of the original population surveyed. By this point, the survivors, on average, were only 47 years old.
The study found that certain mitigating factors such as childhood socioeconomic status, adult depression or even various personality traits offered no explanation for the association between childhood abuse and the greater risk of death in women. The fact that the participants were mainly white and their abuse self-reported did limit the extent that the findings could be applied overall, but again, Shalev points out that the research still raises some very valid questions about how to help the women who are affected.
“The current findings suggest that women survivors of child abuse are at increased risk of premature death, even after controlling for other factors that can explain this association such as personality, depression or socioeconomic status. This raises important questions about potential mechanisms and how we can intervene to improve health and quality of life among survivors of child abuse.”
One undeniable fact from the study about childhood abuse on the life expectancy of women is that the trauma of those years has long-lasting effects which can mean the earlier death of many.
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