WebMD Health News
4th January 2011 – Girls who begin menstruating at an early age are at greater risk of experiencing depression during adolescence, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Bristol and the University of Cambridge say there have been a number of studies linking the timing of girls’ first periods and depressive symptoms among teenagers, but that little work has been done on depression in younger girls.
The teams used data from 2,184 girls enrolled on the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, an ongoing investigation into child health and development in the west of England. They found that the average age when girls had their first period was 13 years and six months.
The researchers looked for links between the onset of menstruation and depressive symptoms at ages 10-and-a-half, 13 and 14. To detect depression, the girls were assessed using a test known as The Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ).
The authors say that those who started their periods early (before the age of 11-and-a-half) had the highest levels of depression when they reached 13 and 14. By contrast, girls whose menstruation was delayed until they were at least 13-and-a-half had the lowest levels of depressive symptoms.
The researchers say they took account of other important factors likely to have a bearing on whether the girls experienced depression, such as whether their biological fathers had left the family house in early childhood; if they came from a poorer background; and if they were significantly overweight or underweight.
Early maturing girls ‘more vulnerable’
“Our study found that girls who mature early are more vulnerable to developing depressive symptoms by the time they reach their mid-teens,” says lead researcher Dr Carol Joinson, Lecturer in the School of Social and Community Medicine at Bristol University, in a statement. “This suggests that later maturation may be protective against psychological distress.”