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Earlier age at menarche as a transdiagnostic mechanism linking childhood trauma with multiple forms of psychopathology in adolescent girls

  • Natalie L. Colich (a1), Jonathan M. Platt (a2), Katherine M. Keyes (a2), Jennifer A. Sumner (a3), Nicholas B. Allen (a4) and Katie A. McLaughlin (a5)...

Abstract

Background

Although early life adversity (ELA) increases risk for psychopathology, mechanisms linking ELA with the onset of psychopathology remain poorly understood. Conceptual models have argued that ELA accelerates development. It is unknown whether all forms of ELA are associated with accelerated development or whether early maturation is a potential mechanism linking ELA with psychopathology. We examine whether two distinct dimensions of ELA – threat and deprivation – have differential associations with pubertal timing in girls, and evaluate whether accelerated pubertal timing is a mechanism linking ELA with the onset of adolescent psychopathology.

Methods

Data were drawn from a large, nationally representative sample of 4937 adolescent girls. Multiple forms of ELA characterized by threat and deprivation were assessed along with age at menarche (AAM) and the onset of DSM-IV fear, distress, externalizing, and eating disorders.

Results

Greater exposure to threat was associated with earlier AAM (B = −0.1, p = 0.001). Each 1-year increase in AAM was associated with reduced odds of fear, distress, and externalizing disorders post-menarche (ORs = 0.74–0.85). Earlier AAM significantly mediated the association between exposure to threat and post-menarche onset of distress (proportion mediated = 6.2%), fear (proportion mediated = 16.3%), and externalizing disorders (proportion mediated = 2.9%).

Conclusions

Accelerated pubertal development in girls may be one transdiagnostic pathway through which threat-related experiences confer risk for the adolescent onset of mental disorders. Early pubertal maturation is a marker that could be used in both medical and mental health settings to identify trauma-exposed youth that are at risk for developing a mental disorder during adolescence in order to better target early interventions.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Natalie L. Colich, E-mail: ncolich@uw.edu

Footnotes

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Authors contributed equally to this manuscript.

Footnotes

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Earlier age at menarche as a transdiagnostic mechanism linking childhood trauma with multiple forms of psychopathology in adolescent girls

  • Natalie L. Colich (a1), Jonathan M. Platt (a2), Katherine M. Keyes (a2), Jennifer A. Sumner (a3), Nicholas B. Allen (a4) and Katie A. McLaughlin (a5)...

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