Youngsters who enter puberty early are at increased risk for depression, a new study suggests.
Early puberty is linked with a number of factors associated with depression, such as poor self-image and high anxiety levels, according to the researchers. Early puberty was also linked to social problems, such as conflict with family and peers, and having friends who were prone to getting into trouble, the study found.
Although the study found an association between early puberty and these factors, it's important to note that the study wasn't designed to show that early puberty is the cause of these issues.
"Only some teens are vulnerable to the effects of early maturation, particularly those with more disruption in their families and less support in their peer relationships," study leader Karen Rudolph, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, said in a university news release.
Boys and girls affected
The study also found that early puberty was associated with an increased risk of depression in boys as well as girls.
"It is often believed that going through puberty earlier than peers only contributes to depression in girls," Rudolph said. "We found that early maturation can also be a risk for boys as they progress through adolescence, but the timing is different than in girls," she added.
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"In girls, early maturation seems to trigger immediate psychological and environmental risks and consequent depression," Rudolph said. "Pubertal changes cause early maturing girls to feel badly about themselves, cope less effectively with social problems, affiliate with deviant peers, enter riskier and more stressful social contexts and experience disruption and conflict within their relationships."
Initially, boys who entered puberty early had much lower rates of depression than girls, but had similar rates by the end of the study's fourth year.
"While early maturation seemed to protect boys from the challenges of puberty initially, boys experienced an emerging cascade of personal and contextual risks – negative self-image, anxiety, social problems and interpersonal stress – that eventuated in depression as they moved through adolescence," Rudolph said.
The study followed 160 youths for four years. It was published online in the journal Development and Psychopathology.
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Image: Unhappy depressed teenager from Shutterstock