Does Birth Control Cause Depression? What You Need to Know to Protect Your Mental Health

woman with birth control

To the millions of women happily relying on birth control so you don't get pregnant: Science has some concerned-face emoji news for you. Doing so may bring on depression.

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That’s the lowdown from a study published in the latest issue of JAMA Psychiatry. Danish researchers tracked the health of one million women between the ages of 15 and 34 for over 14 years. (Any woman previously diagnosed with depression was excluded from the study.) After crunching data, which surely can’t be as tasty as it sounds, they found a link between oral contraception and depression, as well as subsequent antidepressant use.

Their findings? The risk of becoming depressed while taking birth control did decrease with age. But who really waits until they’re middle-aged to use something besides condoms?

To get to the bottom of the Pill's supposed link with depression, we asked Sarah Yamaguchi, MD, an OB/GYN at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles and Yvonne Bohn, MD, an OB/GYN in Santa Monica, California to break down the unsettling study and tell us just how much we should worry.

What's the takeaway from this new research?

"The takeaway is that there is a relationship between hormonal birth control and depression, but that no causation has been proven yet," says Dr. Yamaguchi. "It’s a very interesting result that should trigger further research into the topic, but should not scare women away from using it."

Translation? Taking hormonal birth control won't automatically make you depressed, but it could possibly increase your risk. 

Are certain types of birth control more likely to cause depression?

According to this study, those using the patch and the ring had a higher rate of depression. But, Dr. Yamaguchi adds, "that has not been firmly established as this is only one study."

What women are at higher risk?

You can probably guess this answer. "In general, women who are at risk for depression are likely more at risk for depression with the use of contraception," says Dr. Yamaguchi.

But the youngest Pill users should also take heed. Adolescents were at higher risk than women between the ages of 20-24.

More from CafeMom: What To Expect When You Go Off Birth Control Pills

If a woman is worried that her birth control is negatively affecting her mood, what symptoms should she be aware of? And what birth control might be a better option?

Keep an eye out for any signs of depression, recommends Dr. Bohn. That includes tearfulness, lack of enjoyment in things that usually make you happy, decreased appetite, trouble sleeping, and thinking about hurting yourself or others.

You can also consider keeping a diary of your mood and cycle and see if there are any changes when you’re on the placebo pills versus the active pills, advises Dr. Yamaguchi. 

"I have my patients change the route they get the contraception in. So if they’re on the Pill, I change them to the ring or the patch or vice versa.  The ring and patch give a more steady rate of hormones day in and day out, while the Pill will peak and trough each day," she explains.

So, what are my choices if I want protection without the hormones?

If you think your mood's being affected by your birth control, you can also consider switching to condoms, a diaphragm, cervical cap, or copper IUD. "These [forms of contraception] don't have hormones, so may be better options," says Dr. Bohn.

But try to keep things in perspective. "Depression is a very complicated issue that we don’t yet fully understand," Dr. Yamaguchi adds. "It’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of using contraception versus not using contraception."

After all, she points out, "the amount of emotional stress an unintended pregnancy can cause is immense and hormonal birth control is much more reliable than things like the rhythm method or pull out."

And although this study looks at hormonal contraception causing depression, "we also use [hormones] to manage things like premenstrual depressive disorder or PMS," Dr. Yamaguchi notes.

All of this underscores why it’s important to have a running dialogue with your doctor about what is or isn’t working for you.

“There is no “magic” pill that will prevent pregnancy but never has any side effects,” Dr. Yamaguchi adds.

Not yet at least.

 

Image via studiostoks/Shutterstock 

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