PTSD with depression may strongly increase risk of early death, Harvard study shows

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In a new study, researchers found that women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression have an almost fourfold greater risk of early death from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, type 2 diabetes, accidents, suicide, and other causes than women without trauma exposure or depression.

The research was conducted by a team at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Previous research on PTSD and depression has primarily focused on men in the military.

This is the first study of co-occurring PTSD and depression in a large population of civilian women.

In the study, the team examined more than 50,000 women at midlife (ages 43 to 64 years) and found that women with both high levels of PTSD and depression symptoms were nearly four times more likely to die over the following nine years than women who did not have depression and had not experienced a traumatic event.

The researchers examined whether health risk factors such as smoking, exercise, and obesity might explain the association between PTSD and depression and premature death, but these factors only explained a relatively small part.

This finding suggests that other factors, such as the effect of stress hormones on the body, may account for the higher risk of early death in women with the disorders.

These results provide further evidence that mental health is fundamental to physical health—and to our very survival.

Treatment of PTSD and depression in women with symptoms of both disorders may reduce their substantial increased risk of mortality, the researchers said.

One author of the study is Andrea Roberts, a senior research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health.

The study is published in JAMA Netw Open.

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