In news that validates all those who’ve ever felt extreme mood changes from taking the pill, a new study has found that the use of hormonal birth control may be linked to a significantly higher risk of depression. While mood swings have long been a known side effect of hormonal contraceptive use (as opposed to the all-natural TV based kind), the study is the first to establish a link between birth control and clinical depression.
The researchers analyzed the medical records of one million Danish women between the ages of 15 and 34, and found that women who used the combined estrogen/progestin form of the birth control pill were 23 percent more likely to have been prescribed anti-depressants than women not using hormonal contraceptives. The risk was even higher for women using the progestin-only form, at 34 percent.
Other forms of hormonal birth control were shown to carry even greater risk, increasing to 40 percent for hormonal IUDs, doubling for the patch, and raising to 60 percent for vaginal rings. Teenagers may be at even greater risk of experiencing depression as a result of birth control. Among those age 15 to 19 using the combined pills, antidepressant use increased 80 percent.
These percentages may sound crazy high, but they represent a small — but still significant — change from the anti-depressant use of women not taking hormonal birth control. The rate of women starting an anti-depressant in a given year increases from 1.7 to 2.2 out of 100 women with the use of birth control factored in.
Many have reacted to the results of this study with skepticism, however, arguing the correlation found does not directly prove birth control causes depression. Diana Mansour, vice president for clinical quality at the Faculty for Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare in London, told Metro UK there were other things to consider such as, “Relationships breaking down and especially with adolescents — just being in a sexual relationship.” Catherine Monk, an associate professor in psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center offered a similar theory to the Huffington Post.
But co-author of the study Øjvind Lidegaard told the Washington Post he was undeterred by the counter-theories, and noted the research disproves them.
He said, it’s important to note that not all women who use contraceptives are necessarily sexually active — some take birth control to manage acne, regulate periods and even prevent mood swings. All this, he said, makes his team believe is it quite unlikely that the correlation can be explained away by the narrative of a Taylor Swift breakup album.
“It’s not a trivial finding,” he said. “We have to realize that we have a new thing here that we have to be aware of.”
It’s terribly unsurprising that the results of this study, which Lidegaard says calls for further research, have been met with skepticism when women’s health concerns (including access to birth control) are so frequently dismissed. Maybe this offers some motivation to figure out that whole male birth control thing sooner or later.