The depressive symptoms and antisocial behaviors linked with earlier menstruation can endure into adulthood, a recent study found
Girls who get their periods earlier are prone to mental health issues — and it seems there’s no full stop after adolescence.
Hitting puberty ahead of peers is linked to conditions like anxiety, depression, substance use, disordered eating and delinquency among adolescents, existing research shows. But those depressive symptoms and antisocial behaviors can endure into adulthood, according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics. (The average age for the onset of menstruation in the U.S. is around 12.5.)
The study, which claims to be among few that examine the duration of these effects, followed 7,802 women in the nationally representative National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), collected data in four waves between 1994 and 2008. Participants reported the age at which they had their first period and self-reported their symptoms of depression and frequency of engaging in antisocial behaviors (e.g. property damage, selling drugs, stealing).
Also read: I’ll work through my period, thanks
Starting to menstruate at an earlier age, the researchers found, was linked to higher levels of depressive symptoms even when the women were almost 30 years old. This occurred “primarily because they were more likely to become depressed as adolescents, and that propensity for depression seems to have been sustained over time,” the authors suggested. Early menstruation was also linked, to a lesser extent, with elevated rates of antisocial behavior — in contrast to the typical decline in such activities as kids mature.
“It can be very easy for people to dismiss the emotional challenges that come along with growing up as a girl, and say, ‘Oh, it’s just that age; it’s what everyone goes through,’” lead author Jane Mendle, an associate professor at Cornell University, said in a statement. “But not everyone goes through it, and it’s not just ‘that age.’ And it’s not trivial. It puts these girls on a path from which it is hard to deviate.”
This study suggests that these conditions related to childhood “are not transient growing pains but are predictive of difficulties and challenges that persist into adulthood,” Mendle and her colleagues wrote. Going forward, they added, “(p)ediatricians should be attuned to the mental health risks associated with earlier puberty and be sensitive to the duration of its effects.”
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