Birth control pills have been available to the public for contraceptive use since 1960. As the years pass, more information about this class of medications continues to be revealed, including a newly-discovered link between birth control and depression. Although in the past, doctors refused to prescribe birth control pills to non-married women, the pills are now immensely popular among women and girls of all ages and walks of life. Among women in their childbearing years who use a form of contraception, more than one-quarter of these women opt for birth control pills.
Birth Control Pills: A Miracle Drug?
The popularity of birth control pills should come as no surprise. Not only are they 99.9 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, but they also offer other benefits. One survey found that over half of those who take contraceptive pills take them for other reasons in addition to contraception. “The Pill” is used to prevent menstrual migraines, alleviate severe period cramps, treat acne, treat polycystic ovary syndrome and regulate the menstrual cycle. Birth control pills are even associated with a decreased risk of ovarian cancer.
However, as wonderful as birth control pills may be for many women, others experience unpleasant side effects. These can include weight gain, light bleeding in between periods, headache, decreased libido, mood swings, breast tenderness and even changes in vision for those who wear contact lenses. Taking birth control pills can elevate your risk of blood clots and stroke, especially if you smoke. There is even a small but controversial link between taking birth control pills and a slightly elevated risk of breast cancer.
Estrogen plays a very important role in mood and emotion. The extra estrogen received from birth control pills can send the body’s natural hormone balance off-kilter, causing the long-known side effect of mood swings. There have long been anecdotal reports of birth control pills causing more serious mood-related side effects, and a large study confirms the link between birth control and depression.
Study Confirms a Link Between Birth Control and Depression
This study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, analyzed data from over one million women and teenage girls from Denmark. The data collected was from a span of over 14 years. Analysis found that those who used a hormonal birth control method had a 40 percent higher risk of developing depression after six months compared to women who didn’t use a hormonal method. Furthermore, women who took oral birth control pills in particular had up to a 30 percent higher chance of taking antidepressant medications, compared to those who didn’t use hormonal birth control. The increased risk of depression seems to affect teenage girls more severely than it does adult women.
Non-oral forms of hormonal birth control increase the risk of depression even more than birth control pills. The study found that women who used a hormonal vaginal ring were 50 percent more likely to develop depression, and those who used a transdermal contraceptive patch were fully twice as likely to become depressed as those who don’t use hormonal contraception. The researchers believe that this is because the non-pill forms of hormonal birth control deliver higher doses of hormones than birth control pills.
Preventing Pregnancy Without Hormonal Birth Control
The CDC reports that around 30 percent of women who take birth control pills end up quitting the medication because of unwanted side effects. Given that there is a very strong link between birth control and depression, it’s possible that you already experience this side effect or could experience it in the future. If you develop depression or any other unpleasant side effect from birth control pills, it could be worth it to find a new form of contraception.
The most effective non-hormonal birth control methods include female sterilization (99.5 percent effective), male sterilization (99.85 percent effective), and the non-hormonal intrauterine device (99.2 percent effective). If you (and your partner, if you’re in a relationship) are certain that you don’t want to have children or to have any additional children, permanent sterilization can be a great choice. If you may still want to get pregnant again in the future, the intrauterine device is removable and therefore non-permanent.
If you don’t have the healthcare coverage for the above contraception methods, or aren’t ready to commit to a permanent or semi-permanent birth control method, there are still many options. The diaphragm, a cap placed over the cervix before sex, has an effectiveness rate of 88 percent on average, which is comparable to the birth control pill’s average actual effectiveness of 91 percent (although the pill is 99.9 percent effective when used perfectly, not everyone does use it perfectly, so the actual effectiveness is lower). For women who have never given birth, the vaginal sponge is also a very effective option with 88 percent effectiveness. Male and female condoms are slightly less effective than the diaphragm or the sponge. Less-reliable birth control methods include fertility awareness and spermicide.
Weigh the pros and cons of each method to find the birth control method that suits your lifestyle, your relationship and your budget.