New study links birth control to depression

A Danish study found women on birth control were 23% more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than those not taking hormonal contraceptives. (WISH Photo)
A Danish study found women on birth control were 23% more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than those not taking hormonal contraceptives. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A new study released this month links birth control use with depression among women, especially adolescents. The results show women on the birth control pill and other hormonal contraception are more likely to be prescribed an anti-depressant or diagnosed with depression than those who aren’t.

The Danish study included more than 1 million women ages 15 to 34.

IU Health doctors in the medical and psychological fields say women shouldn’t be alarmed. They say the study does not indicate that hormonal contraception causes depression, but it could be a trigger.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of American women of reproductive age are currently using some sort of contraception. The CDC also reports one in 10 women suffer from depression.

“Our hormones are vitally important for almost every bodily function that we have, so from digestion to sleep to behavior and mood. So we would expect that if there is some disruption there or some manipulation there of that system, you would expect to experience some effects from that,” IU Health Clinical Psychologist Natalie Dattilo said.

For some women, Dattilo said a drug may improve their mood, but this study shows birth control users were more likely to feel blue. Specifically, women were 23 percent more likely to start taking antidepressants.

“I think many women experience mood issues when they’re taking the pill or other forms of hormonal contraception, and this at least encourages a conversation with their doctors about that,” Datillo said.

Dattilo said she’s hopeful the study will be another step to de-stigmatize depression, especially among women. IU Health OBGYN Kelly Kasper agrees.

“We know that depression is under-diagnosed in women and I do think it’s because it’s so stigmatized in society and look unfavorably upon, but we know that many people suffer from it, so women need to be comfortable to speak to their physician … and shouldn’t feel ashamed, shouldn’t feel embarrassed and actually should feel empowered that they’re taking control of their healthcare,” Kasper said.

Kasper said that goes for any medication, not just birth control.

As for the study, she said there may be some other factors to consider. For instance, young girls who are on birth control are more likely to be seeing a doctor regularly, which increases the chance to identify depression and treat it. Girls not on birth control who are feeling depression may go undetected, because they aren’t seeing a doctor as often.

Both doctors also said anyone who is prone to mood swings or has a family history of depression should consider that when choosing a contraception plan.

“There are non-hormonal contraceptive option available that are fabulous forms of birth control, and just because a woman doesn’t tolerate one form of hormonal contraception doesn’t she mean wouldn’t tolerate a different form,” Kasper explained.

Dattilo said if you are experiences any symptoms of depression that are a few steps you can take right away to feel better.

She uses the acronym ESCAPE:

  • Exercise daily
  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
  • Connect with loved ones.
  • Appreciate the good things in life.
  • Remember to play
  • Exhale. Take some deep breaths, especially if you’re feeling stressed or anxious.