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Mental Health and Birth Control: Can Birth Control Cause Depression?

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

Birth control pills have become an inseparable part of our lives because it does not only control fertility but help relieve the symptoms of some conditions as well. The most unfortunate part of birth control pills is the side effects. It is known to cause diverse side effects from nausea to mood changes. But does it cause depression?

birth control depression

What is birth control?

Any technique, medication, or piece of equipment used to prevent conception is known as birth control. Women have a wide variety of birth control methods to select from. Some methods of contraception are more effective than others.

What are the birth control methods?

There are multiple alternative ways of birth control. Some are hormonal and some are non-hormonal. Some of these options are condoms, IUDs, family planning, vaginal ring, coil, hormonal birth control pills, and vasectomy. They all come with different levels of protection, while condoms are 90% effective a vasectomy’s effectiveness is over 99%. They also vary in terms of side effects which makes some of them more desirable than others.

Comfort also comes into play, because of the side effects or allergies many women opt out of birth control pills and use condoms as the preferred method of birth control.

What are the side effects?

birth control depression

One might experience some of these signs that are listed below:

  • Spotting or irregular bleeding

  • Sore breasts

  • Nausea

  • Headache

  • Changes in libido

  • Weight gain

  • Mood swings

  • Depression

What is depression?

Now that we’ve covered different ways of birth control and its possible side effects, let’s continue with the other topic; depression. Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder, affects how you feel, think, and behave and can cause several emotional and physical issues.

What other factors can increase the risk of depression in women?

Just because you are on a hormonal birth control pill it does not mean that it is the reason for your depression. If you are experiencing depression symptoms you should talk to an OBGYN and a psychiatrist about it. Try to figure out what causes you to feel depressed. Here are some of the reasons that could be the cause of your depression:

birth control depression
  • Low levels of social support

  • Sexism and a lack of gender equity in society

  • A family history of depression

  • Stressful life events

  • Being a mother

  • Preterm labor and delivery

  • Birth complications

So can the pill cause depression?

According to researchers, there isn’t enough evidence to say for sure if birth control causes depression. However, the information available suggests that the answer could be negative. They still can’t rule out that there may be a link between birth control methods and depression. This is mainly because every woman reacts differently to hormones. Researchers also think that hormonal contraceptives may have a bigger effect if a woman has a history of any type of mood disorder. But they still need to do more research on the topic because it is still not possible to find an exact answer.

Some other studies however suggest that there is an increased risk of depression when birth control methods come to play. The study of over a million Danish women over age 14 suggested that there is an increased risk of depression associated with all birth control methods. The findings of this study and others indicate that the pill may raise the risk of depression in some women. This appeared to be certainly relevant for non-oral products (such as patches, vaginal rings, or hormonal IUDs) and young women (ages 15 to 19), whose growing brains may be more susceptible to the effects of hormone signaling.

What about the pill?

As for oral products like the pill, it contains hormones. To prevent pregnancy, these hormones alter how your reproductive organs function. Combination meds include artificial copies of the feminine hormones progesterone and estrogen. These hormones stop ovulation or the release of an egg from the ovary. Additionally, they make your cervical mucus thicker, which hinders sperm from reaching your uterus to fertilize an egg.

Evolutionary psychologist Sarah E. Hill explains the pill may have the effect of slowing down reward processing in the brain since it maintains low estrogen levels throughout the cycle and increases progesterone receptors.

What are the factors that might cause you to have a greater risk of experiencing mood swings on the pill?

Not everyone experiences depression when they are on the pill. It could happen to anyone but there are factors that increase the risk. Such as If you have a family history of depression or mental illness you are likely to experience depression triggered by hormones. Although there is also evidence that the pill can stabilize mood in certain women with mental illness.

Taking progesterone-only pills, using a non-oral product and multi-phasic pills are some of the known triggers as well. Multi-phasic pills are pills with an increasing dose of hormones across the cycle rather than a constant dose. Therefore changes in your hormones can cause you to go into a depressed state.

Some say the opposite...

As I’ve stated before the effects of these different ways of birth control and its effects differ depending on the person who’s using it. So it’s no shocker that when I say some women experience negative mood changes on the pill while some women experience the opposite reaction. The ones that feel good reported that they’ve been feeling better and healthier on the pill than off it.