You’ve heard the rumours—birth control pills may cause depression. Maybe you even felt depressed after taking hormonal oral contraceptives. Well, now there’s research that cites a connection between taking the pill and depression.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen recently published a large-scale study in JAMA Psychiatry, showing that hormonal contraception (such as the pill) can actually affect a woman’s mood. Data was collected from more than one million women, ages 15 through 34 years from 2000 through 2013.

Not only did the study find that hormonal types of birth control may put women at risk for developing depression, but it also found that teenagers are most affected. The researchers noted (in the study itself) that teens were more vulnerable to the depression-causing effects of hormonal birth control than women ages 20 to 34.

woman feeling depressed
In the study, women who were taking combined oral contraceptives were 23% more likely to have a depression than women not on hormonal birth control.

So, how much more likely are you to suffer from depression if you’re on the pill?

In the study, women who were taking combined oral contraceptives were 23% more likely to have a depression than women not on hormonal birth control.

Women taking the mini-pill (progestin-only pills) were also 34% more likely to be diagnosed with depression. And, that’s not even the teen numbers!

teen-depression-contraceptive-pill
Teens were 80% more likely (than teens who weren’t on hormonal birth control) when taking the combined pill.

How many teens taking the pill were diagnosed with depression?

Teens were 80% more likely (than teens who weren’t on hormonal birth control) when taking the combined pill.

The findings show that teens who were on the combined pill were 1.8 times more likely to be prescribed antidepressants—this is in comparison to teens who weren’t on hormonal birth control. Teens on the mini-pill had an increased risk that was 2.2 higher than the non-pill taking girls.

This study confirms what many women already knew. So, what’s all the big buzz about? Mood changes (such as depression) are already listed as a potential side effect of hormonal birth control. Hey, you know when your hormones go up and down—you start feeling more than just a bot weepy. Now add in extra hormones, and you can imagine what could potentially happen.

If women already had an idea that taking the pill could result in depression why is this study making news?

Well, it’s the first study of its size (remember, it followed more than one million women) that shows a real link between the pill and the diagnosis of depression. That said, there have been other studies that found a connection between the pill and the mini-pill and antidepressant use.

A 2010 Swedish study also showed a connection between hormonal contraceptive use and depression. In this study, the progestin-only contraceptives (i.e., the mini-pill) was associated with a greater risk of taking antidepressants than combined pills. Like the recent study, this one also found that teens were most at risk.

What does this new study mean for you?

If you’re already on the pill and have developed depression, you might want to talk to your doctor about switching to a non-hormonal birth control option. If you’re not on the pill, and you’re worried about your mood or already have a depression diagnosis, you might also want to stay clear of the hormonal options.

Keep in mind, this recent research doesn’t mean you have to chance it, cross your fingers (or perhaps your legs) and hope that you won’t get pregnant. The pill isn’t the only type of birth control out there. Beyond that, hormonal birth control isn’t ‘it’ when it comes to the contraception list. Your doctor has plenty of alternatives for you to learn all about. Ask away when you go to see the pro—because not every contraceptive is equal!

Author

Belinda's a passionate advocate for community and connection. As the founder of the Mum Central Network she’s committed to celebrating the journey that is Australian parenthood. Mum to two cheeky boys, and wife to her superstar husband, they live a busy but crazy lifestyle in Adelaide. Great conversation, close friends and good chocolate are her chosen weapons for daily survival. Oh, and bubbles. Champagne is key.

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