Medically reviewed by Susan Vachon, PA-C on October 26, 2020
Some women report experiencing depression as a side effect of taking birth control, but what does the research say about that, and what does it mean for you? Every woman is impacted by birth control differently, and studies into the link between birth control and depression have produced mixed results.
It’s impossible to know ahead of time how birth control may affect you, so the best thing you can do is communicate your mental health history and concerns with your healthcare provider so they can find a birth control formula that will be a good fit for you. Here are some of the key facts you may want to know about the connections between depression and birth control:
How does birth control work?
Hormonal birth control works by altering the body’s levels of naturally occurring sex hormones — estrogen and progesterone, or just progesterone. This prevents ovulation from occurring, ensuring that eggs are never released into the fallopian tube where they can be fertilized. The hormones also thicken the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to enter, and thin the lining of the uterine wall, keeping any eggs that do become fertilized from attaching there and developing.
The reproductive system isn’t the only thing affected by these hormones, however: changes in estrogen in particular have been closely linked to changes in a woman’s mood. For this reason, women who take hormonal birth control may find that it affects their state of mind, though every woman will experience this differently — and some may not experience it at all.
Does birth control cause depression?
The short answer is that it’s complicated. There is no strong evidence that birth control pills cause depression, though some studies have shown a slight correlation: a survey of Danish women found that 2.2% of women who use birth control become depressed compared to 1.7% of women who don’t use birth control. A 2007 study showed that depression is the number one reason that women stop using birth control pills.
Because hormonal birth control smooths out the hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle, some women find that birth control improves their emotional well-being. Certain birth controls are FDA-approved for treating PMDD, an extreme form of PMS.
There are hundreds of different brands of birth control out there, with different hormonal compositions. While they are all hormonal birth control, that doesn’t mean they all affect women in the exact same way. Most women will find the process of finding the right birth control method requires some trial and error.
If you’re considering starting birth control but are worried about developing depression as a result, talk to your doctor. Your medical profile may give them some valuable information for determining which forms of birth control are right for you.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Identifying depression can be more difficult than it seems. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Long-term sadness
- Lack of interest
- Diminished sex drive
- Changes in appetite
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dull aches or pains
Depression can sometimes be difficult to discern from other mood disorders or even just bouts of extreme sadness. Depression is best distinguished by the length of time during which people suffer from it: if any of the above symptoms last for weeks or months at a time, it may be an indicator that more than just mood swings are at play.
Some of the known causes of depression include the loss of a loved one or another intimate personal tragedy, trauma, abuse, or a family history of depression. If any of those things have recently impacted you or you’ve recently started taking a medication with depression as a listed side effect, you might find that the hormonal changes brought about by birth control exacerbate the issue.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of severe depression or suicidal thoughts seek care immediately by calling your regular provider, calling 911 (for a life-threatening emergency), or reaching out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-723-8255.
What are the side effects of birth control?
Though depression isn’t a universally recognized side effect of hormonal birth control, there are a few that women should be aware of, including:
- Changes in the menstrual cycles
- Tenderness of the breasts
- Intermenstrual spotting
- Changes in mood
Additionally, a few studies have indicated that birth control may cause heightened levels of anxiety, but, as with depression, more research is needed. Because hormonal birth control raises the body’s levels of certain hormones, the first few months of taking it often see the most severe symptoms, particularly when it comes to changes in mood. As the body gets used to the higher hormonal levels, however, these side effects tend to dull before disappearing entirely after several months of continuous use.
Finding the right birth control method for you can seem like an impossible task, but Nurx is here to help. Get in contact with one of our birth control experts today to learn about what options may be available.