Menstruation Earlier, Depression Later

Study finds links between early onset of menstruation and depression in mid-teens

(RxWiki News) The University of Bristol and the University of Cambridge released a study that analyzed the relationship between the timing of a girl's first period and the risk of developing depressive symptoms.

Published in the January issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, the study draws its findings from a population of 2,184 girls participating in a long-term study called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 11.2 percent of American teens (between 13 and 18 years of age) will experience major depressive disorder. About 14 percent of teens will experience any mood disorder. It is a common belief that girls are more prone to exhibit depressive symptoms than boys. However, such a notion is likely due to boys' tendency not to seek help for their emotional problems.

Led by Dr. Carol Joinson, Lecturer in the School of Social and Community Medicine at Bristol University, the research team found that girls who started their periods at 11.5 years of age (one year earlier than the test population's mean menstruation age) exhibited the most amount of depressive symptoms by the ages of 13 and 14. Conversely, those who experienced the onset of menstruation at 13.5 years of age exhibited the least amount of depressive symptoms.

Previous studies have shown that American girls are reaching puberty earlier than in the past. Building upon those studies, researchers have been examining the causes and effects of early-onset puberty. Some research has found that girls with clinically depressed mothers or in homes without fathers are more likely to reach puberty earlier than normal. Other studies have shown that girls who mature earlier are more likely to become obese in adolescence or, as this study found, become depressed.

According to Dr. Joinson, girls who experience maturation earlier may experience more psychological distress than those who mature later. She says this occurs because the girls are experiencing drastic biological transformations that cause physical, emotional, and cognitive changes. Much of the depressive symptoms that arise in early-maturing girls may be due to the psychological stress of feeling isolated while coping with demands for which they are not sufficiently mature.

Dr. Joinson concludes that her team's research may provide tools that others can use to intervene or prevent the arise of depressive symptoms in those girls who reach puberty early.

Review Date: 
January 5, 2011