March 8, 2018

Add Health data show a connection between early puberty and depression in adulthood

Researchers used Add Health data to show that earlier onset of puberty in girls can have lasting effects on mental health. Past research has shown that early menarche (first menstrual period) is associated with worse mental health in adolescence, but no such studies follow their respondents into adulthood. This is most likely not because of lack of interest, but due to the difficulties involved in following respondents over a long amount of time. Add Health data is perfectly poised to fill this gap.

Researchers from Cornell, Georgetown, and the University of Pittsburgh found evidence of these lasting effects using Add Health data. Data from Wave I (when respondents were in grades 7-12) confirmed previous knowledge that earlier first periods go hand-in-hand with more depressive symptoms at adolescence, as well as with engaging in more antisocial behaviors in adolescence, including behaviors like damaging property, stealing, and breaking into buildings, among others. Data from Wave IV, when respondents were between 24 and 34 years old, also confirmed that these trends continued into adulthood.

Now that doctors have this information, researchers suggest that pediatricians may want to pay more attention to early periods, especially since the average age of menarche has been decreasing over time.

Scholarly source: Mendle, Jane; Ryan, Rebecca M.; McKone, Kirsten M. P. (2018). Age at menarche, depression, and antisocial behavior in adulthood. Pediatrics, 141(1), e20171703.