According to research published Wednesday, there is an association between reports of childhood abuse and premature death, but only in women. And because of the nature of the study, the link isn’t definitive.
Researchers looked at data from a government-funded study that tracks how adults’ physical and mental health change over time. Study participants had filled out questionnaires back in 1995 and 1996 on topics including their experience with emotional and physical abuse during childhood. (Sexual abuse was not assessed, but there is evidence that it can have health repercussions, too.)
Then the researchers collected mortality data for 20 years, and looked at whether reported abuse was associated with death during that period. For men, it wasn’t. But women who reported childhood emotional abuse were 22 percent more likely to die during the follow-up period than women who didn’t report abuse. If they reported moderate physical abuse, they were 30 percent more likely to die. For severe physical abuse, the increased risk was 58 percent. The more types of abuse reported, the greater the risk of death during those 20 years.
“It’s important to consider not just the psychological consequences of childhood abuse, but also the possibility that there may be physical consequences,” wrote Edith Chen, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University and an author of the study, in an e-mail. The results were reported Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry.
Here’s the big caveat: the link to early death was with self-reported abuse, not abuse confirmed by courts or independently documented in other ways. It’s possible, according to Chen, “that some adults may recall their childhoods as more difficult than they would have been characterized by an outside observer, and this tendency itself may be associated with greater health risks.” Or people might not feel comfortable disclosing abuse in a …