Girls who go through puberty early could be more likely to experience depression and behavior problems that last into their 20s compared to peers who start menstruation later, a U.S. study suggests.
Researchers studied data on nearly 7,800 women who had their first menstrual cycle at an average age of 12. The women were interviewed four times, starting around age 16 and continuing until about age 28.
Girls who went through puberty earlier than most were more likely to become depressed, and their symptoms were also more severe in adolescence, the study found.
The younger the age at the first period, the stronger the association between early puberty and mental health problems; it was stronger for girls who started menstruation at age 8 than at age 10, for example.
With earlier puberty, girls were also more likely to have behavior issues that led to things like stealing, lying, breaking into buildings and selling drugs. The link lasted into young adulthood.
It’s also possible that a variety of factors not examined in the study, such as the impact of early puberty on academics or friendships, might at least in part explain the reason puberty timing appeared tied to the risk of depression and behavior problems, the authors note.
“From a social standpoint, girls who develop early tend to be treated like they are older than they really are,” said IHPI member Ellen Selkie, author of an accompanying editorial and an adolescent medicine specialist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Sometimes, that means they might hang out with older kids to try to fit in, Selkie said.
“But that also means they could be involved in things that they aren’t really mature enough for,” Selkie added. “That sense of not really belonging can lead to mood problems and acting out - which we know can set up a pattern of behavior that leads to adult problems as well.”