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Women with PTSD and depression are four times more likely to die prematurely

Women with PTSD and depression are four times more likely to die prematurely. Women who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression have a risk of premature death that is four times higher compared to women without trauma exposure or depression, according to a study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The researchers found that depression and PTSD greatly increased the risk of early death from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, type 2 diabetes, accidents, suicide, and other major causes.

“The study examines longevity – in a way, the ultimate health outcome – and the findings strengthen our understanding that mental and physical health are tightly interconnected,” said study lead author Andrea Roberts. 

“This is particularly salient during the pandemic, which is exposing many Americans and others across the world to unusual stress while at the same time reducing social connections, which can be powerfully protective for our mental health.”

The study is the first of its kind to examine the health outcomes of concurrent PTSD and depression in a large population of civilian women. Previous research on this topic has been primarily focused on men in the military.

The investigation involved more than 50,000 women between the ages of 43 and 64 years old. Over nine years, the subjects with high levels of both PTSD and depression symptoms were nearly four times more likely to die from almost every major cause of death compared to the other women.

The researchers expected that the link between premature death and depression and PTSD could possibly be explained by health risk factors such as smoking and obesity. However, they determined that these types of risk factors only contributed to a relatively small number of the deaths. This particular finding indicates that other factors, such the effect of stress hormones on the body, may account for the higher risk of early death in women with the disorders.

According to the experts, treatment of PTSD and depression in women with symptoms of both disorders may reduce their substantial increased risk of mortality.

“These findings provide further evidence that mental health is fundamental to physical health – and to our very survival,” said study senior author Professor Karestan Koenen. “We ignore our emotional well-being at our peril.” 

The study is published in the JAMA Network Open.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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