Pubertal Development and School Transition: Joint Influences on Depressive Symptoms in Middle and Late Adolescents

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The impact of simultaneous changes in biological and social context on the mental health of adolescents was examined by testing the hypothesis that normative developmental transitions can be associated with increased dysphoria if they occur in close temporal proximity. Girls experiencing physical changes associated with middle or later stage pubertal development during the initial high school or college year were predicted to experience more dysphoria than those experiencing these changes during non-transitional times, with negative pubertal attitudes exacerbating the relation. Pubertal status and dysphoria of high school and college students were assessed. Among females experiencing pubertal changes, dysphoria was indeed highest for the 15 and 19 year olds, and lower for the 16, 17, and 18 year olds with females viewing menstrual onset as negative experienced depressive symptoms of moderate clinical severity. This pattern did not emerge for males, or females not experiencing pubertal changes. In contrast, the hypothesis was not supported when transition time was operationalized using grade level. Implications for psychopathology risk are discussed.