And even with this evidence, it’s important to understand that the relationship between depression and contraception is not quite as simple as “any hormonal birth control is going to make you depressed.” The human body’s relationship to hormones is varied and complex. Different people have different reactions to different chemical formulations; what works well for one person can ruin another person’s life. If your hormonal birth control seems to be causing you emotional distress, consider trying another formulation or a non-hormonal method, like the Paragard IUD
. If it’s not causing you distress, then you don’t need to panic: Nothing in these findings suggests that hormonal birth control acts as some ticking time bomb of debilitating depression.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that putting too much stock in this one study in particular — or any one study, for that matter — is ill-advised. Yes, these researchers found a correlation between hormonal contraception and antidepressant use. But they were also studying a relatively homogeneous population (just Danish women), and while their two decades of data might seem impressive, it also means they were studying the effects of outdated contraceptives that are no longer on the market. Like most pharmaceuticals, hormonal contraception is constantly being updated and retooled; to treat modern contraceptives as completely equivalent to versions available 20 years ago (or, worse yet, Enovid
, the pioneering pill discussed by Broadly
) is misguided at best.
Second, yes, Broadly
is correct that the pill was developed under ethically dubious circumstances. But it’s important to couch that information in some context: While this doesn't make it okay, we should remember that historical medical breakthroughs, in general, have often come to us under ethically dubious circumstances. For much of the 20th century (and, of course, long before), ethics in medical research was something of an oxymoron. If you’re troubled by the revelation that the pill was tested on unwitting Puerto Rican women
, consider that the speculum
was perfected through experimental surgical procedures performed without anaesthesia on slave women, or that for 40 years the Public Health Service allowed a group of Black men to suffer and die from syphilis
— even after effective treatment became available — all in the name of scientific research. There’s no question that the pill’s history is upsetting; but whether it’s better or worse than other medical research conducted in the early 20th century is debatable.
Yet, while it’s important to continue to study hormonal contraception, educate users (and potential users) about possible negative effects, and continually advocate for better, safer contraceptive options — it’s that process that got us from Enovid to Ortho Tri Cyclen
in the first place — it’s also important to remember that there’s a tremendous amount of privilege to being able to complain about the negative effects of hormonal contraception in the first place.