A new study shows that girls who start their periods earlier than average may have a higher risk of depression. But researchers don't know if the risk persists into adulthood.
According to the Daily Mail, researchers studied over 2,000 teenage girls and found that those who started menstruating after thirteen-and-a-half had the lowest levels of depression. Those who started before eleven-and-a-half were most likely to be depressed (the average age at first period was twelve-and-a-half). Says study author Dr Carol Joinson,
The transition into puberty is a critical developmental period, associated with many biological, cognitive and social changes. These can include increased conflict with parents, the development of romantic relationships, changes in body image and fluctuating hormone levels. These changes may have a more negative impact on girls who mature at an early age than those who mature later. Early maturing girls may feel isolated, and faced with demands which they are not emotionally prepared for.
It's certainly possible that girls who menstruate early also get attention from boys and men before they want it or know how to handle it. And the bit about isolation rings true — girls who get their periods before most of their peers often face taunts, and the assumption that they must be sexually active or promiscuous, as though menstruation somehow determined sexual behavior. Of course, this assumption is false (not that girls deserve to be shamed for their sexuality, no matter what), and the implicit challenge posed by this research is how to shield girls whose bodies mature early from the negative attention of classmates, as well as older people. Says Joinson, "If girls who reach puberty early are at greater risk of psychological problems in adolescence, it may be possible to help them with school- and family-based programmes aimed at early intervention and prevention." Researchers don't yet know if the added depression risk of an early period persists into adulthood — but given how much our adolescent experiences can affect us, it certainly seems possible. Hopefully, by learning to protect girls from judgment and harassment, we'll also protect the women they'll become.
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