Birth control pills could cause depression: Study

Today, women across the world use contraceptive devices in various forms, such as pills, patches, implants, injections and other devices. It is estimated that around 16 percent American women take birth control pills, while nearly seven percent use long-term reversible forms of contraception, including implants or intrauterine devices.

All of these contraceptive methods are usually a variant of hormonal birth control that releases synthetic hormones in the body that prevent pregnancy. They could influence a woman’s mental health, including mood and emotions, as well as various biological processes. Though these pills and devices have been in use for quite some time now, studies to understand their effects are still ongoing. The drugs are known to cause side effects, such as blood clots, however, their effects on a woman’s mental health are largely unknown.

A recent study by researchers from the University of Denmark, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, aimed to investigate whether using hormonal contraceptives led to the subsequent use of antidepressants and a diagnosis of clinical depression. Using diagnosis code and prescription records, the researchers evaluated 14 years’ data of one million women from Denmark.

Link between depression and contraception   

In the study titled, “Association of Hormonal Contraception with Depression,” the researchers examined women aged between 15 and 34 during the period of 2000-2013. It excluded those who already had psychiatric conditions, those who could not be prescribed any drugs due to medical reasons, immigrants, and women who got pregnant. Next, the researchers studied the use of hormonal contraceptives and resultant depression in women in two distinct ways, such as separately evaluating women who were diagnosed with depression and those who were prescribed antidepressants.

The findings showed that two percent of all women 15-34 years old were diagnosed with depression and 13 percent began taking antidepressants. In terms of relative risk (RR), as compared to non-users, 1.23 percent of users of combined oral contraceptives reported first use of anti-depressants, while users of progestogen-only pills had a 1.34 percent RR. Further, people who used a patch reported 2.0 percent RR and users of a vaginal patch reported 1.5 RR.

Thus, adolescents, in the age group 15-19 years, were at the maximum risk of taking antidepressants after starting birth control. Among women not using hormonal birth control, only 1.7 percent took antidepressants and 0.28 percent received a diagnosis for depression. At the same time, 2.2 percent of women who took such birth control measures started taking antidepressants afterwards and 0.2 were diagnosed with depression at a hospital. Six months after use of such contraceptives, the RR of antidepressants peaked at 1.4 percent, and in those who never used hormonal contraceptives, the RR estimates of those using combined contraceptives increased to 1.7 percent.

According to the lead author Dr. Lidegaard,We have known for decades that women’s sex hormones estrogen and progesterone have an influence on many women’s mood. Therefore, it is not very surprising that also external artificial hormones acting in the same way and on the same centers as the natural hormones might also influence women’s mood or even be responsible for depression development.”

Thus, women who take contraceptive pills, especially teenagers, are at an increased risk of depression. However, studies are still underway to determine if depression was an outcome of two conditions occurring together or due to the vulnerability of teenagers to experience mood swings or depression.

Help is just a call away

Doctors need to inform their patients about the side effects of using contraceptive measures since it is still unknown as to who may get affected the most.

If you are using birth control devices and also experiencing depression, it is time consult a doctor. Reach out to the Depression Treatment Helpline to get in touch with the best depression recovery centers. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-619-7729 or chat online with experts to know about various depression help centers in your vicinity.