BACKGROUND: Early pubertal timing in girls is one of the best-replicated antecedents of a range of mental health problems during adolescence, but few researchers have examined the duration of these effects.
METHODS: We leverage a nationally representative sample (N = 7802 women) managed prospectively from adolescence over a period of ∼14 years to examine associations of age at menarche with depressive symptoms and antisocial behaviors in adulthood.
RESULTS: Earlier ages at menarche were associated with higher rates of both depressive symptoms and antisocial behaviors in early-middle adulthood largely because difficulties that started in adolescence did not attenuate over time.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings indicate that the emotional sequelae of puberty extend further than documented in previous research, and suggest that earlier development may place girls on a life path from which it may be difficult to deviate. The American Academy of Pediatrics already provides guidelines for identifying and working with patients with early pubertal timing. Pediatricians and adolescent health care providers should also be attuned to early maturers’ elevated mental health risk and sensitive to the potential duration of changes in mental health that begin at puberty.