Sad, depressed woman
Participants who had an early puberty possessed certain common risk factors related to depression, including poor self-image, greater anxiety and social issues with family and peers.Helga Weber/Flickr

Puberty at an early age can lead to depression in children, a new study says.

Researchers found that entering puberty before the actual time prompted psychological, social, behavioural and interpersonal difficulties in children, which in turn, appeared in the form of depression later in life.

Puberty is a term used to indicate the physical changes that appear during the transition from childhood to adulthood. It is a sign that shows that children have become sexually mature. The puberty process, according to the experts at the Medline Plus, occurs normally between ages 10 and 14 in girls and between 12 and 16 in boys.

For the study, Karen D. Rudolph and colleagues from the University of Illinois in US followed 160 young people for four years. Researchers noted down the age at which each participant entered puberty and also kept a track of their mental condition. The youngsters completed a questionnaire on behaviour, mental status and stress; and parents provided details about their children's social relationships and difficulties.

Participants who reached puberty earlier had common risk factors related to depression, including poor self-image, greater anxiety and social issues with family and peers.

The nature of depression varied in both genders.

"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 in a news release.

Girls were more depressed shortly after puberty than boys.

"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."

Similarly, studies have linked early puberty to increased risk of behavioural problems in girls; poor mental health; metabolic dysfunction; substance abuse; aggressive behaviour; increased risk of breast cancer; heart disease and diabetes.