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Previous studies of pubertal timing and self-harm are limited by subjective measures of pubertal timing or by the conflation of self-harm with suicide attempts and ideation. The current study investigates the association between an objective measure of pubertal timing – age at menarche – and self-harm with and without suicidal intent in adolescence and adulthood in females.
Birth cohort study based on 4042 females from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Age at menarche was assessed prospectively between ages 8 and 17 years. Lifetime history of self-harm was self-reported at ages 16 and 21 years. Associations between age at menarche and self-harm, both with and without suicidal intent, were examined using multivariable logistic regression.
Later age at menarche was associated with a lower risk of lifetime self-harm at age 16 years (OR per-year increase in age at menarche 0.87; 95% CI 0.80–0.95). Compared with normative timing, early menarche (<11.5 years) was associated with an increased risk of self-harm (OR 1.31, 95% CI 1.04–1.64) and later menarche (>13.8 years) with a reduced risk (OR 0.74, 95% CI 0.58–0.93). The pattern of association was similar at age 21 years (OR per-year increase in age at menarche 0.92, 95% CI 0.85–1.00). There was no strong evidence for a difference in associations with suicidal v. non-suicidal self-harm.
Risk of self-harm is higher in females with early menarche onset. Future research is needed to establish whether this association is causal and to identify potential mechanisms.
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