More research is underway, but early studies have found that complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) can affect life expectancy. Those who endured six or more childhood traumas can end up living 20 years less than those without such a background. I’ve written plenty about C-PTSD lately. With that in mind, let’s do a brief refresher before getting to the point at hand.

C-PTSD is, in many ways, similar to the more widely known PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The big difference lies in the parameters of the research cited above. Generally speaking, PTSD is caused by a single traumatic event. People with C-PTSD, however, survived ongoing, repetitive trauma and abuse.

Trauma and Life Expectancy

man with hands on his faceA 10-year study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported:

  • As touched on above, participants with six or more different types of childhood trauma face the highest risk. Additionally, there was a 54 percent greater chance these participants would die before the study was completed.
  • Participants who reported fewer childhood adverse events (ACEs) showed no significant increase in risk of death compared with those who did not report any ACEs.
  • Even so, some participants who reported fewer than six ACEs did pass away during the study. They were 3 to 5.4 years younger than the control group participants who died.

Put simply, high levels of childhood trauma, unless processed and resolved, can drastically reduce life expectancy. The chronic stress behind complex trauma is the biggest culprit.


How Complex PTSD Affects Life Expectancy

The study findings are daunting. But how is this possible? What are the mechanisms that can lead to premature mortality? Below are some important factors to consider:

1. Chronic Stress

When the human body is exposed to prolonged, repetitive trauma, the presence of stress hormones like cortisol increases. This tendency can lead to negative outcomes, like:

  • Acceleration of the aging process
  • Chronic diseases and chronic pain
  • Inflammation in the body
  • High blood pressure
  • Great likelihood of developing cardiovascular diseases
  • Compromised immune function
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Impaired digestion
  • Hampered ability to recover from injuries and illnesses
  • Increased incidence of conditions like diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune diseases

2. Socio-Economic Factors

Living with C-PTSD can make it very difficult to attain the basics needed to thrive in a profit-based society. You might find it challenging to keep a steady job, access healthcare, and develop healthy relationships and friendships. The lack of these fundamental elements can undoubtedly determine longevity.

3. C-PTSD’s Effect on Mental Health

The standard symptoms of complex trauma are enough to make anyone feel hesitant to connect with others in a way that’s beneficial to their overall well-being. Some of the most common symptoms of C-PTSD are:

  • Hyper-arousal
  • Avoidance of anything that may trigger bad memories
  • Flashbacks
  • Low self-esteem and a distorted sense of oneself
  • Memory issues
  • Substance use
  • Depersonalization
  • Thoughts of self-harm and suicide

In addition, people with C-PTSD frequently deal with co-occurring mental health disorders. These may include:

  • Dissociative disorders
  • Depression
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorders

A combination like this can create a unique blend of symptoms and behaviors that are not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Also, people with C-PTSD may choose to not report new symptoms for fear of having to deal with more people.

The Help You Need and Deserve Is Available

Obviously, no one wants to hear that a mental issue they are struggling with can shorten their life. Firstly, it’s important to not assume this is carved in stone. On top of that, it makes sense to take this development as the motivation you need to seek help.

If chronic stress and prolonged trauma have played a role in your life, I’d love to talk with you about it soon.