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A study issued by Penn Medicine, whose flagship hospital is pictured here, said the number of traumatic events experienced during childhood and adolescence can significantly increase the risk of depression during the transition to menopause.

Credit: Zach Sheldon

A new Penn Medicine study reports that women who experience emotional trauma and stress during their teen years are “twice as likely” to suffer from depression in the years leading up to the onset of menopause.

While it is fairly common for women to experience depression in the years leading up to menopause, Penn’s study was the first to demonstrate that the number of traumatic events experienced during childhood and adolescence can significantly increase the risk of depression during the transition to menopause, known as perimenopause.

Mary Sammel, professor of biostatistics and a co-author of the report, said that “neglect, emotional and/or physical abuse, household dysfunction, parents’ divorce, alcohol and drug abuse” are all examples of traumatic adolescent experiences that can be linked to perimenopausal depression.

“We were trying to see how these things were related to depression in midlife in women,” Sammel said. “And what we found was that the number of adverse life events, is associated with having depression later on in life.”

According to the report, even women who have never before had depression could suffer from major depressive disorder during menopause as a result of suffering such traumatic experiences during adolescence.

“This suggests that not only does early life stress have significant and long-lasting effects on the development and function of the regions of the brain responsible for emotions, mood and memory, but the timing of when the event occurs may be equally as important,” C. Neill Epperson, professor of psychiatry and lead author of the paper, said in a Penn Med press release.

The study was part of a larger report started almost two decades ago by Ellen Freeman, research professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn Med, whose aim was to observe various symptoms and hormonal changes of women going through menopause. The study followed the same cohort of women from the greater Philadelphia area for more than 14 years.

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