A research team in Denmark has finally confirmed a suspicion that many birth control pill users have had for years—there appears to be a significant correlation between hormonal birth control use and depression.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at one million women in Denmark over 14 years and found that women using the combined birth control pill (that's a mix of estrogen and progestin) were 23 percent more likely to be prescribed antidepressants.
That's no small number.
This percentage was even higher for those using the patch, ring, or IUD forms of hormonal birth control. Those who used the patch had more than double the risk of ending up on antidepressants, the IUD increased the woman's risk by 40 percent and the vaginal ring increased the risk by 60 percent. Third generation or progesterone-only pills, such as Yasmin, also had a higher correlation with depression.
And teens between the ages of 15 and 19, were at a whopping 80 percent increased risk.
Before we all panic, Jennifer Conti, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University, warns that a correlation study like this one “raises questions, [but] it doesn’t answer them.” There would have to be significantly more research before anyone can claim that the birth control pill—and not other factors—actually caused depression in the women studied. She also emphasizes the valuable role birth control plays in many women’s lives, and that for most, the benefits far outweigh the risks. It should be noted that those benefits include avoiding pregnancy-related depression.
While critics have raised valid concerns, many women have been expressing their happiness for these findings on social media. Vindication and a lack of shock seem to be common themes on Twitter:
The lead author of the study, Øjvind Lidegaard, tells KQED, “Women should know that if they develop depression after starting hormone contraception use, it could due to that use.” He reiterates that women who have had a recent or current bout of depression should perhaps consider alternatives to hormone contraception because it may worsen that depression.
The upside of this finding is that women who are taking hormonal birth control and dealing with depression may be able to improve their mental state by discontinuing use of said contraception. It also means that women and doctors can make a better informed decision about what type of birth control is right for them.
But for many women there aren’t other great alternatives to hormonal birth control and for them, these findings are depressing in and of themselves. Hopefully, one day in the near future, women will have more options for non-hormonal birth control without the worrisome risks.