Does Hormonal Birth Control Make Depression More Likely?

Photographed by Tayler Smith.
Your birth control is supposed to bring you peace of mind, but could it be affecting your mental health in a negative way? A large new study suggests a link between hormonal contraceptive use and risk of depression. But it's worth taking a closer look before you jump to instant alarm. For the study, which was published in JAMA Psychiatry this week, researchers followed 1 million Danish women between the ages of 15 and 34 over 13 years. During that time, the researchers tracked the type of birth control that the women used. They also took note of whether any of the women, during that time frame, were diagnosed with depression at a psychiatric hospital and started using antidepressants. They found that women who used oral contraception (either combination or progestin-only pills) were more likely to use antidepressants than those who used non-hormonal contraception. The women who had the highest rates of antidepressant use were those who used injections, implants, patches, or rings for birth control. In fact, among adolescent women, antidepressant use was three times more likely if they used a ring or an IUD than if they used another form of birth control.
However, the study also found that the longer women used birth control, the more the rate of depression fell. After four to seven years of using contraception, the rate of depression dropped lower than the rate among women who didn't use contraception at all. So, the researchers' findings certainly suggest a possible link between hormonal contraception and depression, but don't take this as a cue to change your birth control immediately. Instead, use it as additional info if you've been considering starting a hormonal method — and certainly be sure to to discuss this and any past or current mental health issues with your doctor. As study co-author Dr. Øjvind Lidegaard told Kaiser Health: "Hormone contraception should be considered in context to all the benefits and all the risks, and this is just one of them."

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