UL research explores childhood experiences and mortality risk

Self-acceptance and life purpose mediate childhood trauma impact on mortality risk.


New University of Limerick research shows that childhood adversity may be linked to early death. The study explores how experiences like abuse and instability impact lifespan.

UL study links tough childhoods to shorter lives. Examining 6,128 people over 24 years found lower self-acceptance and life purpose contribute to higher mortality risk. Dr. Páraic Ó Súilleabháin led it, and the research involved collaboration with universities in the U.S. and Netherlands.

Commenting on the study, Dr. Ó Súilleabháin said: “It is essential to find how experiences such as these early in life can impact our lives. We have previously found that these experiences are related to shortening life expectancy. It is essential to understand the mechanisms linking them to identify ways to increase life expectancy.”

“We found that self-acceptance and purpose in life are crucial in the link between these childhood experiences and the risk of death in adulthood. In other words, of all the possible factors in the link between childhood adversity and risk of future death, it appears that self-acceptance and purpose in life are two important drivers.”

The research used the ‘Midlife in the United States Survey’ to study how childhood experiences affect mortality risk. The team examined 20 adversities and found they significantly increase the risk of early death. Factors like self-acceptance and life purpose account for a portion of this risk. Dr. Ó Súilleabháin suggests interventions targeting these factors could potentially reduce health risks for individuals with adverse childhood experiences.

“Research shows interventions can change self-acceptance and purpose. These are crucial both individually and on a societal level,” explains Dr. Ó Súilleabháin. Fostering self-acceptance and sense is challenging without meeting primary healthcare, housing, and education needs. Dr. Ó Súilleabháin emphasizes that impacting these factors in adulthood, especially for those with childhood adversity, may influence their lifespan.

The UL study establishes a significant association between adverse childhood experiences and mortality risk. It highlights the potential impact of interventions on self-acceptance and purpose. By addressing these factors, especially on a societal scale, the research suggests a pathway to mitigate the long-term health risks associated with childhood adversity.

Journal reference:

  1. O’Súilleabháin, Páraic S. et al., Self-acceptance and Purpose in life are Mechanisms Linking Adverse Childhood Experiences to Mortality Risk. The Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine. DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000001266.


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