The many synthetic hormones found in most birth control methods can cause problems with your moods. All hormonal options contain some amount of a lab-formulated version of oestrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that, along with testosterone, control your cycles.
Occasionally, traditional hormonal birth control can exacerbate depression and anxiety because of the effect hormones have on the intricate balance of serotonin, dopamine, Gamma-Amino Butyric acid and norepinephrine, all “feel-good” neurotransmitters in the brain. Oestrogen, in particular, plays a role in depression, with too little causing a dip in serotonin – and once this happens, the ovaries produce less oestrogen, starting a vicious cycle of feeling bad.
On the other hand, too little progesterone is associated with anxiety since the hormone has a calming effect. Contraceptives, oral or inserted or injected, are the most popular methods used for controlling fertility and they contain hormones. These hormones change how your reproductive organs work in order to prevent pregnancy.
Combination pills contain man-made versions of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones prevent the release of an egg from the ovary, or ovulation. They also thicken your cervical mucus, which makes it hard for sperm to travel to your uterus and fertilise an egg. Low-dose progesterone birth control pills also change cervical mucus.
They also take prevention one step further by thinning the lining of the uterus. This makes it difficult for implantation to occur.
The side effects of birth control are generally mild. These may include:
- Spotting or irregular bleeding.
- Sore breasts.
- A headache.
- Changes in libido.
- Many women also report weight gain and depression or mood swings.
The implant (Norplant) has been linked to major depression and panic disorder because of its high progesterone content. It is very important to know how different contraceptives can affect not only your overall physical health, but also your mental health, before you start taking them.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School conducted a study to determine if oral contraceptives impact mood and found that 16.3% out of the overall sample of 658 participants, experienced a worsening of their moods. Literature over the past 40 years has shown how their numerous side effects negatively impact many users.
Three large studies were the first to demonstrate, on a grand scale, certain emotional and behavioural associations with contraceptive use. The studies showed that contraceptive use was associated with an increased rate in depression, divorce, tranquilliser use, sexual dysfunction, and suicide and other violent and accidental deaths.
Depression has been shown to be one of the most common reasons women stop taking birth control pills. Despite this, the studies conducted could not clearly explain the connection. Any woman who has a history of depression, anxiety, panic disorders, mood swings or seasonal affective disorder should consider how well she manages her mental health prior to beginning a hormone-containing contraceptive because for a subset of women, taking this type of contraceptive can worsen an underlying mental health issue.
Contraceptives come in many forms, such as the birth control pill and intrauterine device (IUD), so each type could potentially have varying side effects depending on the individual. For women who experience negative side effects from birth control pills that contain hormones, there are other contraceptive alternatives, such as the IUD, which can be found with or without hormones.
Other options include diaphragms, condoms and tubal ligation. For women who decide on contraceptives with hormones, there are ways to eliminate other potential negative side effects. Any contraceptive that contains hormones has the potential to affect a woman’s mental health due to the effect synthetic hormones can have on a woman’s body.
Therefore, any woman who is prone to depression, anxiety, sadness, or mood swings, the hormone-containing contraceptives can magnify those responses. The mechanism is complicated, and involves the woman’s innate state of health, her overall toxic burden and the way her liver processes and her gut excretes the hormones she has taken.
Additionally, oral contraceptives inhibit ovulation, which can blunt a woman’s sexual drive. This can be distressing for many women and their partners. For women who are already experiencing mental health problems before taking contraceptives, it can be a gamble to start taking pills with hormones.
But there are also benefits that women experience due to the contraceptives: for women anxious not to have an unplanned/ unwanted pregnancy, contraceptives allow them control over their reproductive lives. There are also more intense symptoms that birth control can help with. Some women have PMS related anxiety/ depression/irritability just prior to the menstrual period. Hormonal contraceptives, particularly when taken continuously, can reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Additionally, more control over their own bodies is always beneficial for women. The accessibility of contraception has had a positive impact on women’s mental health because more women now have more control over when they get pregnant.
Even more so for women with mental health issues because they need to carefully plan pregnancies to optimise the outcome for them and the babies.
WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
Depression is more than a temporary case of the blues. It’s a mood disorder characterised by long-term feelings of sadness and disinterest. Depression can interfere with daily life.
The symptoms range in severity and may include:
- Persistent sadness.
- Persistent anxiety.
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism.
- Decreased energy.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- A loss of interest in hobbies.
- Reduced libido.
- Increased or decreased appetite.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Suicide attempts.
- Digestive problems.
Although the definite link between birth control pills and depression has not been established without reasonable doubt, many women have reported feeling depressed while taking birth control pills. This could also be that there are a large number of women with depression. It is estimated that up to 70% of people suffering from depression are women.
Although exact numbers can’t be confirmed, it’s likely that many of those women take birth control pills. Could it be that timing of depression may be a coincidence?
One study even showed that birth control pills may improve mood swings. These women had fewer symptoms of depression and were less likely to report a suicide attempt than women using less effective contraception or no contraception. Even though the evidence is contradictory, many drug manufacturers list depression on birth control package inserts as a possible side effect. Depression symptoms are serious.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of depression while taking oral contraceptives, ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional. Your symptoms may be relieved through therapy or antidepressant medications, or you might need to change the contraceptives that you are on. Research still hasn’t proven an undeniable link between birth control pills and depression. Still, the anecdotal evidence is strong. You know your body better than anyone.
If you are on birth control pills and experience depression symptoms for the first time, call your doctor. You should also call your doctor if previous depression symptoms worsen. Your doctor can help you decide if you should stay on your current pills, try another formulation, or use another form of contraception that doesn’t contain hormones