The research team collected and studied the data of about 7,800 women who had their first menstrual cycle at the age of 12. These women were interviewed four times, first around the age of 16 and continued till they were about 28 years.
‘Depression and behavior problems are experienced by girls who go through early puberty.’
The results showed that younger the age at the first period higher the chances of developing mental health problems, especially was seen in girls who started menstruation at an early age, as early as eight years.
Early puberty in girls lead behavioral problems like stealing, lying, breaking into buildings and selling drugs, which carried on even into young adulthood.
"Interestingly, the magnitude of the association between puberty and these psychological difficulties remains stable, meaning that puberty is as strongly associated with depressive symptoms and antisocial behavior during adulthood as it is during adolescence," said lead study author Jane Mendle, a researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
Puberty is one of the most crucial phases of development during the lifespan. Though it can be a challenging, it can be a vulnerable time for girls, as they physically mature ahead of their peers.
As physical maturation is associated with changes in social roles and relationships, it has long been related to difficulties coping with new moves and stressors in life and can also make changes in the brain making the life of a youth vulnerable to mental health and behavior problems.
The research team examined the data collected from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative study that includes youth from a broad range of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The interviews were conducted in four waves from 1994 to 2008. The questions were related to the timing of menstruation, any symptoms of depression, anti-social behaviors like lying, stealing and dealing drugs.
Young women were found to have experienced depression as adults and would have started experiencing these symptoms during their adolescence, and the risk has increased over time, reveals the study.
Antisocial behaviors were found to be not that prominent as depression.
"The study wasn't a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how early puberty might influence the risk of depression or behavior problems in adolescence or later in life.
It's also possible that a variety of factors not examined in the study, such as the impact of early puberty on academics or friendships, might at least in part explain the reason puberty timing appeared tied to the risk of depression and behavior problems," noted the authors.
Dr. Ellen Selkie, the author of an accompanying editorial and an adolescent medicine specialist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said that from a social standpoint, girls who attain puberty early tend to be treated as adults.
Sometimes, they might even hang out with kids who are older than them and could also be involved in things that are not relevant to them, said Selkie.
"That sense of not belonging can lead to mood problems and act out - which we know can set up a pattern of behavior that leads to adult problems as well," noted Selkie.